Inside the ropes
If Saturday is traditionally moving day at golf tournaments, then Friday must be grooving day. It's the last chance for the tournament organisers to match up threesomes the way they want and on day one all the heavyweights had an early start so they could be good to go later in the day yesterday.
John Daly, Simon Dyson and Lam Chih-bing tee off at 11.30am, followed directly by Graeme McDowell, Liang Wenchong and Y.E. Yang, with Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Lin Wen-tang on their heels. There are fans following other threesomes around the course, but those galleries are in single digits.
Regardless of the throngs surrounding him, there is no mistaking Daly. Even from a distance, his pants arrive a good five minutes before he does. The strap on his golf bag has a huge, unmistakable logo on it: Grip it and rip it.
'JD, you the man,' someone yells as he arrives at the third green. Daly nods as he always does. But, still, those pants. They are so loud, so Daly.
'When we came up with the idea for the brand based on some of the more outrageous golf designs in the 70s and 80s, there was only one person we could think of as a natural spokesman,' says David Suzuki, one of the co-owners of Loudmouth apparel who is tagging along in Daly's group. Since Rodney Dangerfield of Caddyshack fame is no longer among us, the honour naturally fell to JD. 'He's been incredible, so co-operative and genuine,' said Suzuki. 'That's just him though and that's why the fans love him and are so loyal.'
Perhaps no golfer is more aware and grateful of the gallery than big John and, as he steps to the tee box on the fourth hole, he treats those fans to a classic Daly moment. Number four is a short, but blind, par four, all of 288 yards. The smart play is to lay up with a five or six iron and use a wedge to get home.
Both Dyson and Lam skilfully and conservatively strike their shots perfectly, leaving about 120 yards to the green. Daly is the last to go and spends a moment, and then another moment, pondering his move as the crowd starts to murmur.
'This is why we come to watch him,' says a gentleman next to me. Indeed. When told that there is still a group up on the green, Daly gets out a hybrid club and waits. And waits and waits. Both Dyson and Lam ask if they can walk up to their balls and Daly nods.
The crowd is not moving though and eventually Daly strikes his shot crisp and it disappears over the trees to a round of applause, even though no one is sure where it landed. As the throng approaches the green Daly's ball comes into sight, smack dab in the middle of the fairway no more than 40 yards from the green.
And then big John treats the crowd to another unique Daly moment. His chip lands hard and bounds over the green. He chips back on to the green and two putts for a bogey, while Dyson and Lam walk away with par. The silence on the next tee box is almost deafening, even though Daly's pants are still very loud.
Not far behind, a massive throng following McDowell begins to approach. I spot a friend and he tells me excitedly, 'Did you hear Daly drove the green on the fourth hole?' 'Today?' I ask and he nods. Nope, sorry mate.
There is something very, very odd about McDowell's posse. As the Northern Irishman appears over the horizon with a swelling gallery in tow, there are four guys wearing caddy bibs walking a few paces behind him right down the middle of the fairway. But none of them are carrying clubs, which has me completely flummoxed. As they get closer I can now read their bibs: Honorary Observers. Say what? Honorary Observers? Do you guys work for the United Nations or something?
No, they explain, they are guests of UPS, which is one of McDowell's sponsors. So what have you honourably observed? 'That McDowell is truly a nice guy,' says Tim Guinan, who is sharing honorary observer status with Dustin Ford, Cleat Kimbrough and Paul McGee. 'The rules are simple, stay behind the players, don't talk to the players and don't stand in front of the signs,' Kimbrough adds. But I have to ask them the question on everybody's mind. Are you allowed to use the players toilet? 'I hope so,' says Kimbrough. 'Because I just did.'
McIlroy and Poulter are just behind, dragging the largest gallery of all with them. They are treating a few more honorary observers to an extraordinary birdie binge that sees Poulter on his way to a sizzling 60. His approach on 18 is dead on and as their group approaches the green, I spot another friend who has spent the day walking along with them. 'Hey, man have you heard?' he says. 'Daly drove the green at number four.'
'Today?' I ask and he nods.