Tait: Controversy is nothing new at Wentworth
VIRGINIA WATER, England -- After the winds of controversy that have blown over the Wentworth West Course the last few days, the European Tour breathed a sigh of relief when a golf tournament finally broke out Thursday morning.
Andrew Dodt of Australia, England’s Graeme Storm and Phillip Price of Wales got proceedings back to normal in the first three-ball of the day.
For the record, Sergio Garcia got a warm reception from the Wentworth gallery when he teed off at 12:50 p.m. local time in the company of defending champion Luke Donald and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. The European Tour was glad Garcia was letting his clubs do the talking instead of making wise cracks with racist overtones.
European Tour chief executive George O’Grady was near the first tee when Garcia teed off. As if O’Grady didn’t have enough on his plate with losing his main players to the PGA Tour, the last thing he needed was Garcia making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
We should also put on the record there were no fist fights between Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. McIlroy has left the Horizon Sports Management Group, leaving (former?) good friend McDowell as the main man in the stable. Quite why McIlroy has left remains a mystery, and McDowell may know more about it than he’s letting on.
This tournament has been beset by controversy for years. The European Tour used to hold a players’ meeting early in the week, and there was always matters arising from that conclave that stole the headlines. We had the gang of four – Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Bernhard Langer - questioning the Tour’s finances.
We had Mark James’s explosive book on the 1999 Ryder Cup and his very public row with Faldo.
We had players up in arms over Colin Montgomerie’s infamous drop in Jakarta in 2005.
There’s more, much more. So much more that sponsors BMW laid down the law to the Tour years ago – no more players’ meeting during our tournament.
Still we’ve even had rows over changes to the West Course in recent years. Those rows seem tame in comparison to what’s taken place this week.
When the names Matteo Manassero, Martin Kaymer and Justin Rose went up on the leaderboard early, no wonder it was so welcome.
In fact, given the controversies swirling around Wentworth the last few days, the sight of uncontroversial Mikko Ilonen at the top of the leaderboard was most welcome. Surely he has no skeletons in his cupboard?
A collective holding of breath took place when Ilonen began his post-round chat with reporters. The sound of relief was almost palpable.
The Finn launched into a boring tirade of golfing clichés. “Just patience really,” he intoned. “I took my medicine” after bad tee shots at 13 and 16. “I’ve got good form this year.”
Perhaps the most soothing of phrases came when he said: “I made a good up and down on the first, which sort of calmed me down.”
Music to O’Grady’s ears.
Ladies and gentleman, finally we have a golf tournament to report on.