The best part of being a sportswriter is when you are allowed to cover something different. In 2002, the PGA Championship was coming to Minnesota for the first time since 1959 (Minneapolis Golf Club). It also was going to be the first major championship in the Twin Cities since the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National.
The Star Tribune decided to go all-out in the buildup to and the coverage of the return of golf's best players to Hazeltine. This allowed me to cover my only British Open in July 2002. It was held at Muirfield, the historic layout with the outer nine and inner nine that rests next to the Firth of Forth.
Among the many things that made this different than American golf was the ability to walk into a corner betting shop and place a wager on the 52 games being held on each of the first two days of play. To the Brits, a game was the competition within the threesome. And 156 players equalled 52 games ... in other words, 36 more than in any one day of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
There were odds placed on each of three players in the group. And to collect, your guy had to have the low score in the threesome for that day. If he tied for low score in the group, the betting shop kept the money.
In Thursday's first round, Tiger Woods was in a group with Shigeki Murayama, the No. 1-rated player from Japan, and Justin Rose, England's No. 1-rated player. Tiger had won the first two majors of 2002 and many of us arrived at Muirfield convinced that this was the year he was going to win a real Grand Slam, not an invented "Tiger Slam.''
I stopped in a shop the night before and made a bet on Rose to win the group on Thursday. My recollections were that the odds of Rose winning the group were 7-2, that he beat Tiger and that I collected.
One of three wasn't too good. The odds to win the group actually were Woods 4-5, Rose 7-4 and Murayama 10-3. Rose did beat Woods, shooting a 3-under 68 to Tiger's even-par 71.
In checking the electronic clips this week, it was discovered that Murayama also shot 68, which means Rose didn't win the group and thus the betting shop was forced to keep my money.
Even without having profited from Rose in the past, I found myself rooting for him as the U.S. Open came down the stretch on Sunday at mighty little Merion.
One reason for this was that I didn't want to hear incessantly about Phil Mickelson being an amazing father (compared to the rest of us) because he had made a coast-to-coast commute in his $40 million private jet to attend a daughter's eighth-grade graduation. For another, Rose seemed a genuine good guy as a 21-year-old at Muirfield, and in the couple of encounters I've had with him since.
Rose came to prominence as an amateur in the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale. He chipped in on the 72nd hole to tie for fourth. He still was 10 days short of his 18th birthday.
Justin announced the next day he was going to turn pro. The British golf press love its traditions, loved its amateurs, and Rose was ridiculed for making a wretched, impulsive decision. And when he missed the cut in 21 straight European Tour events, he wad derided in the media and by competitors every time he was sent packing after 36 holes.
When he was given exemptions to play in 16 tournaments in 1999, other young players trying to make it on the European Tour were known to refer to him as "Just Invite,'' rather than Justin.
"There were a lot of things written and said about what a bad decision I made,'' Rose said at Muirfield. ''It was a frustrating two years. It was also a valuable experience. It made me tougher.''
Rose became competitive on the European Tour in 2001. Then, he started 2002 with a victory in the Dunhill Cup, and went from there. By Muirfield, he was the 21-year-old hope for the future of English golf, rather than a source for ridicule.
Another thing I found out in looking back at clips from that 2002 British Open: In addition to the 52 games, it was legal for someone to wrangle a personal bet with the shop's bookkeeper. Rose negotiated 5-2 odds for himself against Woods in Thursday's round.
"I made a couple of quid on the 18 holes,'' Rose said that afternoon, grinning.
And he made a few more playing in front of Phil on Sunday.
FOOTNOTE: Woods' slam attempt ended on Saturday at Muirfield, when he was caught out in a howling wind and driving rain on Saturday afternoon and shot an 81.
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