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  Saturday, 21 July, 2001, 22:56 GMT 23:56 UK
Practice makes perfect
Tiger Woods
The practice ground is the place to watch Woods
Tiger Woods' metronomic swing transfixes BBC Sport's Rob Bonnet as he takes in the excitement at Royal Lytham.

More than 33,000 people can't be wrong. The Open is great value to the spectator, but the view for the course walker can be distant and obscured.

High on atmosphere...low on detail.

The best seat in the house is behind the metronomic swings of the practice ground. All human life is here.

Lunchtime on Saturday and the young boys behind the barrier at the entrance call out to Mark O'Meara as he arrives ahead of his third round match with Tiger Woods.

"Mark, Mark!", they shout, thrusting pens, caps, programmes, and autograph books towards the 1998 champion. He obliges with a smile.


For the golf aficionado, this is heaven. Swings to dissect, postures to analyse, mood and humour to assess
It's a rehearsal. For everyone. Boys, camera crews and stewards. After all, Tiger will be next.

He too is smiling as he runs the gauntlet, but it's fixed and unblinking. An autograph is impossible...he'd be there till tea-time.

The practice ground stand is full and this is the moment they've been waiting for.

Though the fans see nothing but a caravan of back-pedalling cameramen and forward-thrusting security men until Tiger emerges from their midst to take his place on the hitting area.

He stands alongside O'Meara and Davis Love - behind him coach Butch Harmon dressed in black, a stocky figure who settles into an immoveable stance of arm-folded contemplation.

As Woods lobs his balls into the middle-distance with a wedge, Harmon watches from behind his shades like an artillery captain considering the range of his best mortar marksman.

Fact or fiction?

No tricks today - not like last year at St Andrews when, the story goes, Woods got bored and asked Harmon if he could see the 200 yard marker.

"Of course" said Harmon.

"Watch this!" said Woods as he took out a two iron, drilling a hole into the first of the noughts with a ball that barely left the ground.

True story? Perhaps not, but such is the mythological magic of the man that it has - at least - the ring of truth.

Parnevik lookalikes at The Open on Saturday
Parnevik saw double on Saturday
For the golf aficionado, this is heaven. Swings to dissect, postures to analyse, mood and humour to assess.

But for the first-timer, the star spotter, it's like Leicester Square on film premier night. There's Gary Lineker chatting with John Parrott and David O'Leary, .there's that nice Steve Ryder, and only Geri Halliwell is missing.

To you and me, every shot from every pro looks perfect - the swing a creation of mechanical perfection, the flight of the ball an arc of sublime beauty.

But it isn't of course, not to these perfectionists who tut self-critically from time to time without going so far as to betray their inner fears.

Tiger leaves and the stand half-empties but the noise that greets Monty is double that for Woods. A cheery wave and then he goes into his pre-round routine, which is as much chat as swing.

Everyone there wants to wish him well but only Greg Owen, who's in the match ahead of him, has sufficient access to do it personally.


There's a humorous commotion and Parnevik turns to see not one but two doppelgangers
By now, of course, the third round is well underway and the giant screen behind the stand is telling the story.

From across the links the cheers and groans confirm that drama is unfolding but detail is unknown.

It's time to leave and - as if to confirm it - the practice ground scene develops a surreality all of its own.

Two lads, more Stockport than Stockholm, arrive dressed as Jesper Parnevik look-alikes...cheque drainpipes, "Parnevik" stencilled across their t-shirts and wearing masks bearing a black and white photo of the great man.

There's a humorous commotion and Parnevik turns to see not one but two doppelgangers and to the delight of a crowd used to the tunnel-vision of the golfers, he poses happily with them not just for their cameras but also for those of the tv stations.

And finally, beer-cans in hand, seven Glaswegian lads arrive, who with well-lubricated but genuine wit, entertain the stand with a floor show that takes in both passionate support for Monty and wicked satire aimed at BBC Sports News presenters.

It really IS time to go!

The 130th Open, at Royal Lytham

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