Open a success even before it began

A large crowd follows Tiger Woods as he makes his way along Hole

To say the Open was a rousing success last week, with Tiger Woods playing in front of a packed crowd down the street at CordeValle Golf Club, and Bryce Molder and Briny Baird exchanging paper cuts in a riveting six-hole, sudden-death playoff Sunday, would be inaccurate.

Because the Open was not a success last week. It was a success months ago when Woods threw his name into the list of committed players, sparking a final ticket sale (about 50,000) that doubled last year’s tally and raised what will likely total more than $1 million for local charities.

Defending champ Rocco Mediate could sum it up at his Oct. 4 press conference, two days before the tournament started.

“Last year we did this in a dinky room with about five reporters,” he said, scanning some of the media placards that read Los Angeles Times, and Sports Illustrated. “This is a lot bigger.” Open organizers might as well send a thank-you letter to Woods. The tournament itself was icing – beautiful, delicious, scenic icing on the cake.

Sunday evening it felt like one of those events you tune in to watch on a weekend in March or June. The sun had set beyond the foothills of San Martin, leaving the resort bathed in an iridescent mix of greens, oranges and pinks – colors symbolizing change in this area at this time of year – as the final two players battled like their careers depended on it.

Tied at 17-under, Molder, 32, and Baird, 39, had never won a PGA Tour event for obvious reasons; neither can close. Molder eventually did just justice to the feverish loyal fans, who stick around long after Woods exited in a pedestrian tie for 30th, sinking a 6-foot birdie putt to win it on the 18th.

“You’ve had the nerves all day long, and there’s only so long that your body can be nervous,” Molder said. “And you almost kind of get through it. That’s why a lot of times you see some great golf in playoffs.”

There was plenty of that Sunday, see: Molder’s chip onto the green from a leafy trench on the 18th and Baird’s subsequent approach shot that struck the flagstick.

When it was over, Molder knelt with his hands on his head afterward, as the crowd spilled onto the green.

“You couldn’t write it any better,” tournament director Ian Knight said.

“I’d do all of this over again in a heartbeat,” one volunteer said.

The celebration commenced right away around Molder and extended to the club house patio and throughout the resort.

Few mentioned Woods.


‘That’s amazing’


The grand scheme is to move the Open to John Fry’s private course, The Institute, located in the hills southeast of Morgan Hill as early as 2013. Tournament heads, of course, also want the Open to graduate from the PGA Tour’s Fall Series and become a regular-season event.

In luring Woods to this year’s edition, Knight and his peers succeeded in taking a major step. The 14-major winner is very interested in returning for the 2012 Open – even with his run-in Sunday with a hot dog-wielding fan. He is also a fan of The Institute, a daunting 7,952-yarder with fast greens.

“(CordeValle) is a fantastic setting,” Woods said. “What John Fry has done, what (tournament president Duke Butler) has done with this event has been fantastic.”

The transformation from last year’s open to this year’s was clear as the weather. The 2010 edition saw temperature in the high 80s until a stormy final round. This time it was the other way around, with rain Thursday and clear skies from there.

“We got lucky this time,” Butler said Friday.

Much of the nearly sold-out crowd can be attributed to Woods, but golf aficionados came out in droves as well for the likes of Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, David Duval, Trevor Immelman, Rich Beem and Justin Leonard, among the tournament’s 12 major winners. Even with Woods’ up-and-down performance, fans were delighted.

“This was great,” said Scott Shipman of San Jose. “Six playoff holes in a PGA event – that’s amazing.”


The more things change …


The Open was bigger and better, as Mediate said before it started, but it also stayed true to its roots as a showcase for up-and-coming talent, such as top-ranked amateur Patrick Cantlay; and a tasting for the tour’s win-starved old guard like Els, who provided star power near the top while tying for fourth.

Cantlay, a UCLA sophomore, stole the show Thursday and Friday from his playing partners, 2011 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and Woods, while 21-year-old Bud Cauley took third at minus-15. Cauley was one of nine lesser-known Americans in the final top 10. Live Oak High graduate Erick Justesen tied for 42nd at 5-under.

Molder though was king.

“I already really enjoyed the golf course before I got here and was looking forward to being here,” he said. “But if I hated it and hated the layout, which I don’t, I’ll hold it as a special place in my heart.”

Alas Molder was part of the ultimate sign of success for the 2011 Open: People will come back.