THE BRITISH OPEN : Stadler Stumbles Over Rules Again; Davis’ 64 Is a Record
Craig (the Walrus) Stadler, who has turned golf into an audience participation sport, got the fans involved again Thursday in the opening round of the British Open.
For the second time in six months, Stadler fell victim to golf’s equivalent of a citizen’s arrest. He was penalized two strokes at the conclusion of his round when several gallery vigilantes reported a rule violation by Stadler to the tournament chairman.
Instead of the 67 he thought he had carded, which would have tied him for second place, three strokes behind leader Rodger Davis, Stadler left the course with a 69, two under par. He was probably headed for the nearest library, to do a little homework on the Rules of Golf, or to the nearest pub, to ruminate on the complexities of a game that seems so simple.
Meanwhile, playing strictly by the rules and assisted by the weather, Davis set a course record of 64, and 26 others beat par. Three strokes behind Davis, at 67, were Lee Trevino, Bob Tway and Ken Green. Another stroke back at 68 were Larry Mize, Paul Azinger, Nick Faldo and Nick Price.
Defending champion Greg Norman came in at par 71 after a double-bogey 6 on the 18th, when he took two shots to get out of an infamous Muirfield bunker.
Tournament co-favorites Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros finished the round at two under par and two over par, respectively.
The ancient course failed to bare its fangs. Muirfield served up shirt-sleeve weather for the first half of the field, which played in only slightly cool and breezy morning conditions.
And heavy rain, predicted for the afternoon, never did blow in off the Firth of Forth. The wind kicked up a little late in the afternoon, and there was some rain, toughening up the course slightly for the afternoon teeoff crew, including Norman.
But any trouble the golfers encountered with the weather seemed minor compared to Stadler’s run-in with the rule book. Only last February, at the San Diego Open, Stadler was disqualified and denied his second-place money, $37,333.33. His transgression was kneeling on a towel while executing a shot from a muddy lie.
He was brought to justice when TV viewers saw the shot on a highlights sequence and phoned tournament officials to point out Stadler’s use of an unauthorized piece of equipment, the towel.
Thursday, Stadler drove into the short rough on No. 5, the only fairway he missed all day. The ball was completely buried in the high, soggy grass. Under PGA guidelines, this calls for a free drop.
“I called (playing partner Ian) Woosnam over, and he agreed I could drop it,” Stadler said.
So he dropped, hit a 7-iron to the green and one-putted for a birdie. It wasn’t until after the round that Stadler learned that in the official rules, penned for this very course more than two centuries ago, the free drop is allowable only on the fairway. The liberal PGA interpretation of that rule is a sort of local American ground rule effective only in American tournaments.
Had Stadler declared the lie unplayable and then dropped, assessing himself a one-stroke penalty, he would be sitting one stroke closer to the lead this morning.
“We have played that way in the U.S. for so long and in every tournament I have ever played, at least on the tour, I took it as being a rule,” Stadler said.
“This is not my year. After finally starting to play good, I wasn’t real pleased (now), and I’m not in the best of moods. . . . I did not read the decision (rule interpretation) book last year and I did not read the rules this year. One of these days I’ll take a month off and read them both.”
But the damage is done. It remains to be seen how costly the two-stroke penalty will be. More important, Stadler is apt to be hounded forever by a reputation for skirting the rules, however inadvertently. How many Walrus backswings will be disturbed by the gentle rustling of dozens of rule books in the gallery? How many fans will dog Stadler into every rough in hopes of joining the I Finked on Stadler Club?
This is a man who needs every break he can get. This is a man whose last tournament win was in 1984, who fell to No. 53 on the money list last year, who has missed four cuts this year, although he did have three recent top-10 finishes.
This is the man who won the Masters in ’82 and is now struggling. He did get a break Thursday, when his infraction was brought to his attention just before he signed his score card. So a disqualification was avoided. But a criminal was branded.
And an anonymous former innkeeper was discovered. Rodger Davis is a 36-year-old Australian who gave up an unspectacular golf career on the European circuit in 1982 to be near his family and to try his hand at the hotel business.
"(The tour) was getting to me,” he said. “I was struggling with the old blade.”
He struggled with the hotel, too. It folded.
“It didn’t work out,” Davis said. “I was virtually forced back on the tour.”
And his career bloomed. Last year, he won three tournaments, including the Australian Open, and this year he has finished in the top eight in five of the six tournaments he has entered.
Thursday, Davis used just 29 putts and birdied eight holes. He had one bogey, on the par-4 10th, when he caught a bunker. He also pulled up a total of four inches short on three birdie putts.
“It’s silly to say you’re unlucky when you’re starting at seven under, but I could have had those three,” Davis said.
So, instead of a 61, he had to settle for a 64, a course record, with an asterisk. Two of the holes have been lengthened slightly for this tournament, so the low round of the day was an automatic record. Isao Aoki shot a 63 on this course in 1980.
Heavy rain is forecast for today.