Many sports enthusiasts have been watching their favorite events from the United Kingdom in the last few weeks. Wimbledon just wrapped up, the Open Championship is underway and the Brits even got a taste of Major League Baseball.
Though the two-game baseball series between the Yankees and Red Sox generated some interest — particularly if you like offense — I don’t think the sport will replace soccer as the most-watched game on the other side of the Atlantic.
British people also love golf and tennis and two of the most prestigious sporting events in the world — Wimbledon and the Open — came back to back this month. Let’s take a look.
Wimbledon! This year’s event featured Roger Federer, the men’s leader in career major singles titles with 20 and Serena Williams, whose 23 wins paces the distaff side. Would they add to their records?
Both reached the finals, but that’s where they came up short. Williams, who is 38, lost to Simona Halep and many were left to wonder if this would be her last shot at another title. I wouldn’t be too quick to count her out, but she is getting older.
Federer played a classic match against Novak Djokovic before losing 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6 and 13-12. The match lasted some five hours, but could have been longer had Wimbledon not added a tie-breaker to the fifth set.
Under the new rules, the tie-breaker is employed in the fifth set when the score reaches 12-12. One would think that the rules change was prompted when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut took 11 hours to finish a marathon match before Isner prevailed 70-68 in the fifth set.
That however, was in 2010 and it was not until now that the new rule took effect. You have to think that players and fans alike would be content to settle for five hours of competition.
This year marked the debut on the world stage for 15-year-old Coco Gauff, and she did not disappoint. She knocked off Venus Williams as well as a couple of other opponents before losing to the eventual champion. This precocious young lady will be heard from in the future as the tennis world will eventually have to replace its aging stars.
The Open! I did not set my alarm to watch the action across the pond, though I’m sure some golf fans did. When I awoke and flipped on the TV at 5:30 a.m. it was just in time to watch Rory McIlroy finish his opening hole. More on that later.
This year’s 148th Open Championship is being contested at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. There is something mesmerizing about a seaside links course. The wind, rain and crazy rough make the viewing enjoyable. I’m not sure I would want to see my score if I actually had to play the course.
One of the earliest finishers in the first round was Darren Clarke. Now calling Royal Portrush home, he has long been one of my favorite golfers for a couple of reasons. The first is the fact that if you played a round of golf with him, he likely would invite you to the local pub for a pint afterwards. One of the great guys in the game, the 19th hole might be the most enjoyable of the day.
The other reason is special. While near the lead late in a tournament, Clarke hit his tee shot into some heavy rough. A fierce rainstorm then took place, causing play to be halted. When play resumed, Clarke was able to replace his ball in the rough which had been matted down by the rain.
According to the rules he could have played for the green and likely gotten there. Clarke, however, thought the spirit of the rules should be observed and chipped the ball back into the fairway. He explained afterward that he would not have been able to do otherwise had the storm not stopped play and therefore thought he should do exactly that.
The move may have cost him the tournament, but it gave him the admiration of golf fans everywhere. When Clarke birdied the first hole Thursday, his native countrymen applauded wildly. He shot even par for the day, even though he doesn’t play much anymore. It made me smile.
The Open Championship has been known for former Claret Jug winners playing their final round. I just watched Tom Lehman stride up the 18th fairway for the last time. You could tell he was having trouble keeping his emotions in check. The fans gave him a resounding ovation. They know the history of the Open and the former Champion Golfer of the Year, as well as those of us watching, were touched by the moment.
As for some of the big names in the field: Phil Mickelson shot five over. Adam Scott and Tiger Woods were seven over par. And McIlroy hit his first tee shot out of bounds. He re-teed and went left into the rough. His fourth shot went into some ridiculous stuff greenside and resulted in an unplayable lie.
A chip shot and two putts later he carded a snowman. He shot 79, eight over par. As I write this the second round is underway. Will any of these big name players even make the cut? By now you know.
With Wimbledon finished and the Open Championship nearly so, the fun in Britain is about over. I guess they will have to go back to watching soccer!
Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.
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