There have been many individual days at The Open when bad weather has presented an extreme challenge for the world’s best golfers.
However, few Championships can have been played in conditions as persistently demanding as those experienced at Royal Birkdale in 2008.
Strong winds were a constant presence during The 137th Open, which unsurprisingly ended with not a single player under par.
“Miserable, miserable, miserable!”
Arguably the toughest conditions of a stormy week came on the opening morning of the Championship, as the early starters were greeted by an unwelcome combination of gusting gales, unseasonably cold temperatures and persistent rain.
Although the weather improved marginally in the afternoon, a first-round scoring average of 75.88 laid bare just how difficult it was to make pars, let alone birdies or eagles.
Vijay Singh, one of 19 players to card a score of 80 or more, described his round as “miserable, miserable, miserable” – a view that was likely echoed by many of his fellow competitors on a fiercely difficult day.
Paul Casey, who would go on to finish in the top 10 despite an opening 78, said: “It was awful. I thought how can we be playing in this? When is the horn going to blow? It never happened.”
However, not everyone suffered. Robert Allenby, Graeme McDowell and Rocco Mediate all capitalised on missing the worst of the weather with outstanding one-under rounds of 69.
Harrington happy with 74
In normal circumstances, the reigning Champion Golfer of the year would surely be disappointed to begin his title defence with a four-over 74.
However, Padraig Harrington – who had come close to being ruled out of the Championship by a wrist injury – recognised that his opening-day score was perfectly fine on this occasion.
“I'm sure I would have taken it on the first tee,” said the Irishman. “A 74 will be a respectable enough score with 54 holes to go in this tournament.”
Harrington would soon be proved right. A 68 the following day, when conditions were somewhat easier despite more wind and rain, lifted him firmly into contention at two over.
He was one of a dozen players to break par on Friday, while Camilo Villegas carded an extraordinary 65 after finishing with five straight birdies.
Nevertheless, only one man – KJ Choi – reached the halfway stage of the Championship in red figures as the cut fell at 10 over par, highlighting just how tough the opening two rounds had been.
Norman excels as ‘brutal’ conditions continue
Although there was finally some blue sky to enjoy on Saturday, the winds grew even stronger and almost forced a suspension in play as players experienced issues marking balls on greens around the turn.
Four scores of 70, from Ben Curtis, Henrik Stenson, Simon Wakefield and Davis Love III, proved the best anyone could offer, while Ross Fisher’s one-over 71 was enough to lift the Englishman from tied-27th into a share of fifth.
“I’m over the moon,” said Fisher. “It was ridiculously tough out there.”
The player dealing with conditions best of all, however, was two-time Champion Golfer Greg Norman, who thrilled the Birkdale crowds by surging into the lead at the age of 53.
After beginning the week with successive level-par rounds of 70, Norman opened up a two-stroke advantage over Harrington and Choi with a third-day 72 that represented a superb effort amid gusts that rose to 40mph.
“I'd put it in the top three hardest rounds of golf I've ever played, under the circumstances,” said the surprise leader. “It was just brutal today."
Harrington prevails amid high scoring
Norman was ultimately overhauled on the final day and had to settle for joint-third as Harrington produced a back nine to savour, coming home in 32 strokes to complete a 69 and win by four from Ian Poulter.
For the first time since 1999 at Carnoustie, The Open ended with not a single player under par, largely because of the winds that blew throughout the week.
If a winning score of three over was revealing, the fact a 12-over aggregate earned a tie for seventh spoke volumes.
Those who finished near the top of the leaderboard could certainly be proud of their efforts in handling some torrid weather, with Harrington’s efforts particularly outstanding as he retained the Claret Jug.