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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK
Negotiating the Open 'Matrix'
By Matt Slater
BBC Sport at St Andrews

Tiger Woods tees off at the 17th
Can you see him? Crowds always flock to catch Tiger

Trying to watch golf on a narrow strip of land like St Andrews with 40,000 other people is a bit like inviting the entire street to your house to watch EastEnders.

Never mind bunkers and pin positions, for the punter the Open is all about tiptoes and vantage points.

The golf crowd is also a slippery beast - just when you think you've got the hang of it, it sheds its skin somewhere along the third fairway, only to reappear as something completely different, but usually four-deep, by the fourth tee.

Nowhere can these Matrix-like qualities be better seen than around the Old Course's famous "loop" - the cluster of holes that form the crook part of the shepherd's stick that is this famous links.

Take Thursday morning, for example. It was clear from Monday, when the draw was made, that Luke Donald, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson would be the day's marquee group.

The prospect of seeing the English number one - and one of the world's best young players - measure himself against two of the finest golfers ever to play the game was always going to be an attractive choice.

But with a 0747 tee time, it was also going to mean an early wake-up call.

Colin Montgomerie has his own army of fans
Some fans are only interested in catching "their man"

No problem for some - they were there with starter Ivor Robson and co to see the day's first group off at 0630. For them it was a case of getting "up country" early doors and waiting for the circus to come to them.

For others, perhaps those that opted for the full cooked option, it was case of arriving in time for the first drives and heading off in tandem with their heroes.

The really late arrivals, those unable to forego "one for the road" in Lafferty's or The Gin House on Wednesday, simply took their medicine and aimed for a back-nine rendezvous.

So off we marched. And at each new stop on our journey our numbers grew Pied Piper fashion - the popularity of the players acting as a gravitational pull.

But then, just as things were starting to get strictly "standing room only", a larger planet appeared, and the gravitational pull of Luke, Jack and Tom was weakened.

Tiger Woods was on a charge. As Luke and the Legends turned for home for good - the final charge homewards at St Andrews starts for real at the 12th - Tiger had just birdied his second straight hole, the 10th, to go two clear.

Suddenly, this enormous river of people was pouring towards us just as our own once mighty river started to dump people like silt along the banks of the course.

Galleries, like water, have helicoidal rotation properties - and yes, that is 5 you owe me for finding a use for the word "helicoidal".

Darren Clarke
Few who saw them will forget Darren Clarke's trousers

Woods then birdied 11 and 12 to reach seven under, three clear, prompting even the most loyal Golden Bear cubs to wonder "should I stay or should I go".

Pretty soon the "loop" was reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount scene in "Life of Brian" - there were people forming into huddles wherever they could find raised ground, but only those at the front had any idea why they were doing so or what they were supposed to be looking at.

And so we proceeded.

The weak and the Scottish soon gave up, deciding to get off and wait for the Colin Montgomerie-Paul Lawrie coach to arrive. While the ancient and the American, pushed on hoping to catch a glimpse of Jack on the 18th.

But in truth there is no right way to follow golf at the Open.

Nobody, not even the BBC's Julian Tutt, can be everywhere at once, so you might as well amble about at your own pace watching whatever takes your fancy.

That way you get to see remarkable things like Darren Clarke's trousers before most people, and Peter Lonard go bogey, double-bogey, eagle, birdie, just because he can.




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