SOUTHPORT, England -- In the days leading up to the British Open, the practice green behind the clubhouse at Royal Birkdale was a beehive of activity. Enormous bags filled with putters were here and there, putting gurus strolled confidently and players could be heard chatting about everything from investment funds to iPods.
But this afternoon, as pair after pair were summoned to the first tee, the mood was entirely different. The green was devoid of everything and everyone except players and caddies. There were few sounds aside from the flags cracking in the wind atop the stands ringing the nearby 18th green. There were very few smiles to be seen. Late Saturday at a major championship, it's all business. David Duval, in contention in a major for the first time in years, concentrated on long lag putts. He rolled his ball 30, 40 and 50 feet across the green. He was in his own little world until Michael Campbell walked close. Campbell, who had already posted a 74 that left him at 13 over par going into Sunday's play, knows what its like to fall out of the spotlight after being in its glare. He said, "Keep it up," patted Duval, and walked on.
Nearby, Padraig Harrington, the defending champion, rolled in one 5-footer after another. He silently went through his entire pre-putt routine before every stroke. Robert Allenby, hoping to continue Australia's success at Birkdale, went through a drill using three balls. He putted from a distance, and then placed the balls in a ring around the hole at the same distance as his worst putt. The goal was to reward good lags and simulate the pressure of must-make 3-footers.
At their appointed time, both Harrington and Duval made their way to the gate of the green with their caddies in tow. Duval scraped chewing tobacco from his lower lip, flicked it on the edge of the green in the long grass, and adjusted his trademark sunglasses. Neither said a word.