ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND, JULY 19 -- The Royal & Ancient has a malicious prankster in its midst. Here were just a few of the groups the R&A swore it drew randomly out of a hat (nobody believed that) in making up the threesomes for first-round play in the British Open today:
Greg Norman played with Bob Tway and Robert Gamez, each of whom has holed out nearly impossible shots to steal a tournament from him.
Nick Faldo was grouped with Scott Hoch, the man he beat in a Masters playoff two years ago and hardly his best friend, after some critical comments by Hoch appeared in local newspapers.
Fred Couples and Christy O'Connor Jr. are friends, even though their taut match swung the Ryder Cup last year, O'Connor winning with a miraculous birdie on the 18th hole.
Curtis Strange and Ian Woosnam were two more Ryder Cup rivals who went out together today.
Seve Ballesteros and Tom Watson disputed the British Open here in 1984, Ballesteros winning when Watson bogeyed the Road Hole.
"You might call it a fix," O'Connor said.
But, according to the R&A, those potentially uncomfortable groupings resulted from a draw by numbers. Some of them dealt with it gracefully, like Couples and O'Connor, who have become long-distance correspondents, exchanging notes and Christmas cards. Their round today was the first time they had seen each other since the match at the Belfry last year that ended with the Cup tied and both in tears.
"It was a challenge," O'Connor said. "The general feeling was, here we are again."
Hoch's and Faldo's conversation was more strained. Tabloids this morning quoted Hoch as saying the pride of Great Britain is remote and unpopular among players and fans alike, and Hoch admittedly still is upset by his loss to the Englishman in the Masters two years ago, when he missed a 36-inch putt for victory on the first playoff hole.
As they met on the tee, Hoch told Faldo not to believe tabloid headlines such as "Faldo's a Plonker!"
"Whatever you've seen, it's not true," Hoch said.
"Don't worry," Faldo said. "I don't read that stuff."
Norman denied he was ill at ease playing with Tway, who holed out from a bunker to take the 1986 PGA from him, or Gamez, whose 7-iron into the last hole on the fly gave him the Nestle Invitational title earlier this season as Norman looked on.
"I just worried about my tee time," Norman said. "They're good guys." But surely when Gamez holed a wedge for an eagle at the fifth hole today Norman must have suffered de'ja` vu?
"It was a good shot," Norman shrugged. "What do you want me to say?"
Punters Pick Faldo
The local betting odds make Faldo the 7-1 favorite, followed by Norman at 9 to 1. Ballesteros was a 16-1 shot, until fans caught on to a good deal and rushed to lay money on him, dropping him to 14 to 1. . . .
Michael Allen's 66 included a freakish streak in which he scored 3s on seven holes in a row. . . .
Craig Stadler shot 82 and had one of the most disastrous rounds of the day. He was 12 over with a 48 through nine holes. He had consecutive 7s, a double bogey on the par-5 fifth and a triple bogey on the par-4 sixth. . . .
For three days of practice rounds, the wind at St. Andrews blew behind the players going out on the links and into their faces coming back. It reversed completely for the opening round, causing a three-club difference on some holes. . . .
The wind may have had something to do with how the Road Hole was played: miserably. The difficult No. 17 surrendered only five birdies and 65 pars. There were 65 bogeys there and a whopping 21 double-bogeys. . . .
Faldo has a book full of precious notes on St. Andrews, given to him by the late English champion Gerald Micklem. The notes are said to be a treasure trove that includes landmarks to aim at off the tees and bumps and swales to avoid around the greens and fairways.