Woods-Ishikawa pairing led to media madness

Went to watch a three-ball game in the opening round of the 138th Open Championships. What broke out was a three-ring circus.

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No surprise that Tiger Woods was involved; his presence always attracts a huge following. But for Royal & Ancient officials to throw Ryo Ishikawa into the pairing could be called risky or foolhardy or anything in between.

Lee Westwood, the third member of Game 15, probably had a term in mind, but being the proper Englishman, he chose not to make a big deal of things. He did not deny, however, that there were moments when he felt as if he were one of 37 clowns jammed into a Volkswagon for the carnival crowd.

“I expected it to be busy out there and there to be a fair bit of activity,” Westwood said. “It gave me a nice chance to practice my Japanese.”

Before we get to the side shows that were such a big part of the Woods, Westwood, and Ryo Ishikawa pairing, let us capsulize the golf. It was choppy (Woods hit just eight fairways and 12 greens to shoot 1-over 71), contrasting (Westwood started with three straight birdies, but double-bogeyed the 16th to shoot 68), and compelling (Ishikawa showed that he’s a pretty poised 17-year-old by coming home in 33 to shoot 68).

And while nothing any of them did interrupted the real golf story of the day — 59-year-old Tom Watson’s 65 — everything they did was watched by seemingly every set of eyes in Scotland.

Indeed, claustrophobia was a very real concern, most prominently at the par-5 17th. With Woods having followed a wide-right drive with a wider-right 3-wood, he was high atop a mound, knee-high in rough and up to his eyeballs in photographers, golf writers, and radio reporters.

So conjested was it up in the narrow path that Royal & Ancient officials asked for a routing mulligan and granted permission for media members to come down into the fairway.

Unfortunately, they didn’t quite have answers for the snafus that added levity to the competitive mood at various points earlier.

At the 489-yard, par-4 third, for instance. Woods’ tee shot had come to rest under a TV tower and he was entitled to a free drop. First, officials had to push back the crowd. Mission accomplished. Then they had to push back a few dozen Japanese photographers. Mission not accomplished, at least not at first.

OK, so maybe there was a language barrier, but more likely this was the problem: They were there to focus on Ishikawa, the teenage phenom, and his every move is their only concern. So as Woods tried to determine his drop at the third and as Westwood attempted to settle over a par-saving putt at the par-4 10th, they had to wait for the photographers to get settled.

“I can say a couple of times I stood off,” Westwood said, and for sure there were two moments when he shot an icy stare at the photographers. “But I didn’t play a shot where I wasn’t concentrating and wasn’t ready to play that shot.”

It was a head-scratcher when R&A officials announced the Woods-Ishikawa pairing. (Westwood was no surprise. After all, it’s the fourth time he’s been grouped with Woods in the opening two rounds of a major. Must be a “w” thing.) Woods easily commands the huge majority of camera and reporting interest no matter where he plays. Ishikawa? If he were paired with Happy Gilmour and Judge Smails the Japanese photographers would be out there three and four dozen strong.

So mixing the two media-magnets together, especially on a links golf course where so many of the pathways are narrow and demand slow, cautious travel . . . well, let’s just say that the R&A lads have made wiser decisions. (Of course, it must have thrilled the Japanese TV entity, but surely that’s a coincidence, no?)

Anyway, back to the golf — the par-5 seventh, to be exact, because that might have been the comical highlight of the day. Shoved down below a big hill so as to get out of the golfers’ line of sight, media members chuckled when an unmanned golf cart became the real issue.

“Whose cart is it?” yelled a security official.

No one answered, and 80 yards away, the players waited. Trying to move it himself, a security official realized the engine was locked. “What’s the code?” he shouted. The first code was wrong, a second one failed, too, until the third seemed to work.

Abbott and Costello come to the Open Championship, or was it the Three Stooges?

We know it wasn’t Laurel and Hardy, because they showed up minutes later. Oblivious to the fact that golf was being played, the two men meandered down the right side of the fairway, backs turned.

“Hey, guys,” yelled Woods.

With headphones on, the men didn’t hear, so Woods had to wait till the way was clear.

What never did arrive was Woods’ game — he got to 1-under three times, but never went deeper. Bogeys at 15 and 16 pushed him seveen off the lead, matching his largest first-round deficit in his 12 British Opens as a pro.

Miserable day at the office, er circus.

But at least he had plenty of company.