Open Golf: Remembering the (in)famous storm in 2002July, 2013
The Muirfield downpour was the tale of the Open 10 years ago. And I was right in the middle of it...
Even through the roof of the media centre, you could sense a sudden loss of light. It was as though the electricity had momentarily failed.
I made my way outside to see the halfway leaders on the 1st tee. It was dead calm, unnaturally so, and suddenly cold.
Making their way through the post-round formalities in the nearby recorders’ hut were the likes of Justin Rose, Steve Elkington and Justin Leonard. Having made the cut more or less on their number, they had shot fine if not exceptional rounds of 68 in calm, dry and still conditions. Little did they know that each would begin the final day inside the top 10.
Back inside, on the TV coverage, you could see the storm moving ominously, inevitably, over Muirfield.
Everyone knew bad weather was on its way – and it arrived bang on schedule.
Then the first rain drops could be heard splattering against the side of the tents, along with the giveaway clanking of flag poles. Within a minute or so the conditions were unrecognisable.
When the players are forced off the field in a cricket match, they always say that the light is worse than it appears on TV.
I found that hard to believe in this case so grabbed my jacket and headed outside again. I managed about five seconds before I was soaked and ducked back in again. It was long enough to see the lights on in the clubhouse and watch thousands of spectators dashing for safety.
Those just beginning their third rounds did not have that luxury. For the next hour and a half, the best they could do was survival.
This was rain of the horizontal variety, and it whipped across the exposed East Lothian coast in merciless fashion.
It was cold, too, resulting in conditions not entirely unfamiliar to the British golfer – but even in early March they would have been considered severe.
As we all know, it is just about possible to play in such heavy wind and rain – but only with the right gear and mentality.
It was clear that Colin Montgomerie, for one, had neither. Inexplicably, he did not even have a jacket on and persisted with a sodden leather glove and a wool jumper that just got heavier and saggier.
It was as though he had not even seen a weather forecast.
Tiger Woods did at least have an outfit that looked the part – though I doubt it had been designed with this sort of weather in mind. They shot rounds of 84 and 81 respectively. The latter remains Tiger’s worst ever score as a professional to this day.
To his credit, Tiger manfully faced up to the world’s media afterwards and followed it up with a closing 65.
Monty rapidly disappeared and eventually finished second-last among those who played all four rounds.
Tiger Woods did at least have an outfit that looked the part – though I doubt it had been designed with this sort of weather in mind. The rest of the field was hardly faring much better. My abiding memory is of Japan’s Shigeki Maruyama huddled against a wooden advertising board on the 4th tee and looking like anything other than a world-class tour player.
For a brief period, anyone managing to record a bogey seemed to move up the leaderboard while, periodically, a name would simply disappear from the first page, never to return, following an especially painful seven or eight.
Gradually, the names of Rose and Leonard climbed upwards. They ended the day in a tie for third.
Weather like this rarely lasts for long and so it was that the wind relented and the rain abated.
I remember thinking at the time what an injustice it would be if the winner did not eventually come from those players who had faced the worst of the conditions. You could hardly criticise the two Justins for their spectacular moves through the field but two rounds barely good enough to make the cut plus one in the high 60s hardly seemed to compare with what the leaders had gone through.
As the sun emerged for the first time since early morning it was fittingly Ernie Els who sauntered up the 18th as though the whole afternoon had been a stroll with a two-shot lead.
That round of 72, one over par, will go down as one of the bravest of his career. Little more than 24 hours later, after a play-off with Elkington, Stuart Appleby and most stubbornly Thomas Levet, we could look back and say that it had provided the platform for the gifted South African to win his first Claret Jug.
What the PLAYERS made of the 2002 storm
Ernie, Sergio et al recall the freak weather which swept over Muirfield
It’s the toughest round I’ve ever played. You couldn’t hardly hold an umbrella. My caddy and I wondered if it was the worst weather ever in the Open. It has been 131 years. – Soren Hansen
It was one of the worst days I’ve ever played in. It was so bad, almost unplayable out there. It was basically survival during a two-hour period. The weather was as bad as I can ever remember. It’s unbelievable it should happen in July, it was more like a December or January day. – Des Smyth
I had four different jackets in the bag and my caddy thought we were going to have to take a trolley just to carry my extra clothing. I think I went through about all of it by about the 4th. We were standing on the tee at the par 3 and it’s maybe 179. Maggert had a 2-iron out and it started blowing even harder and our umbrellas almost went inside out and then he pulled out a driver. At that point, I thought ‘oh, game on’. I ended up hitting a 2 iron as good as I could hit it just short of the green. – Scott McCarron
I hit driver, 3-wood on 10, not even a chance of reaching the green. I flushed both of them – 50 yards short of the green. On 11 I hit a great drive and a 5-iron to the green from 155 yards. – Sergio Garcia
It was some of the toughest conditions I’ve ever seen in an Open. I’ve seen it be calm in the mornings, blow in the afternoons, but I’ve never seen it like this. It was like night and day. – Ernie Els