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Hardy souls who endured worst day of major weather ever recall third round at 2002 Open

Tiger Woods, 2002 British Open
IAN HODGSON / Reuters / Landov
Playing through the worst of the squall, Tiger Woods hobbled home with a 10-over 81, which remains his worst score as a professional.

There was no warning, players will tell you -- not even from those who were supposed to know. This made the appalling weather in the third round of the 2002 British Open at Muirfield even more appalling. They hadn't packed for it. What ensued was a "wall of s---," in the words of Ernie Els's caddie Ricci Roberts, that moved in from the North Sea at around 2 p.m. and lashed the course and everything on it.

It was arguably the most wretched day of weather in the long history of wretched Open weather. Tiger Woods, who was chasing the third leg of the calendar-year Grand Slam, shot 81, the worst score of his professional career, and said, "I tried on every shot. I didn't bag it."

Colin Montgomerie, who had shot a second-round 64, carded a third-round 84 to match the biggest day-over-day scoring differential in Open history (R.G. French, 71-91, 1938 Open at Royal St. George's). Bedraggled, beaten and drenched, Monty fled the course without comment.

Players hit drivers into par 3s, lost balls that barely missed the fairway, and sought shelter where they could find it. Els, arguably the day's biggest winner, shot 72 and went on to claim the Claret Jug a day later. What follows are the ghastly memories of those who survived the Worst Day Ever, even if their pride did not.

The day, July 20, began under sunny skies and almost no wind -- perfect scoring conditions for those with an early starting time. Justin Leonard and Justin Rose began the third round tied for 50th, and each shot a 4-under 68. By day's end, they would see their names rocket up the leaderboard into a tie for third.

Justin Rose [68]: "Worst day ever? What are you talking about? It was the best day ever! I'd made the cut on the number and I think I went out with Justin Leonard, and he played well, too. I remember sitting at home -- I had some family around me, had a cup of tea and biscuits, as we do -- and I was watching myself climb up the leaderboard. It was good fun."

Trevor Immelman [71]: "It started out an okay day, and then you just saw this awful stuff moving in. It looked like the world was going to end. I played the last three holes in it, signed my card and then watched my name move up."

Word spread after lunchtime that Mother Nature's mood was about to turn foul.

John McLaren, caddie for Duffy Waldorf [77]: "I remember us being on the range and heading out to the first tee. Duffy was right there, tied for the lead, but apparently the guys out on the oil rigs had actually sent forward a message about a storm coming and said it was one of the worst things they'd seen. We were all just like, 'Uh-oh.' There wasn't a lot we could do about it."

Peter Arthur, deputy chief marshal of the 2002 Open: "By mid morning, the R&A officials were starting to get quite worried peering into their computer screens."

Eyewitnesses recall the moment they realized that the British Open was about to turn into an event more suited to the Weather Channel than to Golf Channel.

Ricci Roberts, caddie for Els: "I went out and walked the course, and the weather was perfect. When I came back to the clubhouse I looked out over the water at this wall of s--t coming at us and I thought, 'You've got to be f---ing joking.' I remember standing under the eave, because there's really nowhere for us [caddies] to go there, and seeing Tiger, who was about to tee off. His eyes were as big as saucers, like, Are you kidding me? We're going to go play golf in this? I don't think he'd ever seen anything like it."

Stuart Appleby [70]: "I'd finished and was having lunch in the big marquee and thinking I'd go out and do some practice. I looked back over the tent and it just looked like all hell was going to break loose. I thought, 'That's it, no practice.' "

Hank Gola, New York Daily News golf writer: "I had played a lovely round at Dunbar in the morning, but driving to the course you saw this wall of clouds, just total darkness. It was like the apocalypse."

Carlos Rodriguez, player manager for Sergio Garcia: "It just turned. It was nice, and then all of a sudden it was so bad you didn't need an umbrella, because it was useless. After three or four holes, it started getting darker and darker."

Players who had yet to tee off ran back to the locker room or the pro shop for more clothing. Those who were caught out on the course had no such luck.

Padraig Harrington [76]: "It's the only time in my life I could say that I wasn't prepared on the golf course. I had to send in for my rainwear. I didn't have hand warmers or any of that. It was a lovely day and then it was the worst weather I've played any competitive golf in. As bad as it was, it wasn't unplayable. Balls weren't moving. But it was horrendous."

Scott Gneiser, caddie for David Toms [81]: "We got one of the bad tee times. There were certain tee times that if you were in one of them, you were toast. I remember we didn't have the right clothing for it, no ski hats or anything like that. It was so bad out that even the marshals were having trouble. David hit one that wasn't even that bad off the tee, maybe like five yards off the fairway, and we never found it. The ball disappeared, and we had to go all the way back to the tee. He'd played so good that first day [67, tied for the lead], and he really liked that place, but that lost ball was the beginning of the end."

Toms: "It was the eighth hole, par 4, wind left to right, dogleg right. I hit my drive and we saw it from the tee. I thought it was about a foot off the fairway, to the left. There were marshals everywhere, but we never found the ball. I was not happy. I was pretty aggravated. That's a day when you need everything to go right, and to have something like that happen with marshals and people around..."

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