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 : "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 : "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 : "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 : "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 : "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 : "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…"
Starting his round two shots back, Woods bogeyed the first hole, missed a three-foot putt for bogey on the 13th, and the rout was on, the wind blowing balls hither and thither. Club selection became a guessing game, no one could get warm, and chaos reigned.
Mike Weir : "I was within a few of the lead and I weathered it okay until I made an 8. We lost it in a gorse bush and had to go back to the tee — I don't remember what hole. It was raining, but it was blowing so hard you couldn't put your umbrella up. Brutal."
Appleby: "I remember watching on TV as the players teed off, and Shigeki Maruyama was hiding behind a sign on a long par 3, just cowering."
Harrington: "While it was very windy, it was also cold. That was the real problem. It was so cold. Guys couldn't feel their hands. My playing partner topped a number of shots. I'm not going to say who it was."
[Ed. note: It was Waldorf.]
Stewart Cink : The worst part wasn't the cold; it was the combination of the wind and the rain. You can deal with one or the other, but when you get both it's really hard. You were hitting drivers 200 yards, and an 8-iron maybe 80 yards, trying to somehow keep it on line."
Jimmy Johnson, caddie for Nick Price : "I remember Nick hit driver on the third hole, a par 3. He hit it 208 yards to within about 10 feet of the pin. Colin Montgomerie, who was playing with us, hit 3-wood and came up short."
Paul Lawrie : "Obviously where I come from you get a lot of days like that, to be fair. I think I shot 81 and played pretty nicely. It was just impossible. Seventy-eight, I shot? That's a great effort, then. I played with the little Japanese guy, the guy who wears the squashed cowboy hat? [Shingo Katayama, 74] He kept laughing. He thought it was quite funny. You've got to be that way; if you're not that way and you let it get to you, then you're in trouble."
Steve Stricker : "There was no escaping anything. Umbrellas were useless because the rain was coming in sideways."
Carl Pettersson : "I was actually tied for the lead for a while in the third round. It was the most brutal weather I've ever played in. The only thing I was trying to do was hit the ball. It was that hard. Seventy-six that day was — I mean par was probably 80. The bad weather came when I teed off. I played 12 holes in it. I finished bogey, double, and I was just glad to be done."
Colin Hancock, now a producer of Living Golf on CNN, attended the tournament as a fan but skipped the third round: "We were in Aberdeen and had gone out shopping, and it was so cold we ended up coming home and making a massive fire and huddling up in front of the TV. You could barely make out Woods coming up the fairways, and he looked absolutely miserable, as everyone did."
The horrific weather and the litany of terrible scores [10 players signed for 80 or higher] turned those scores that weren't terrible into instant classics.
Els : "Under really tough conditions, that was as good as I could have done. I had it for about 14 or 15 holes. I think I made two birdies coming in, which salvaged my round even more. I thought it might miss us, but it just kept coming. It was ridiculous. The ball would not go anywhere, and you get water on the clubface and the ball can squirt anywhere. I was playing with Shigeki and we were hitting drivers on par 3s. It was horrific stuff."
Ian Poulter : "Ernie's score that day was fantastic. It was a hell of a score. I was just trying to survive. I remember it like it was yesterday: Tiger was playing with [Mark] O'Meara right behind me, and I was in great position. I was right there with the best names at the time and got blown off the golf course along with 70 percent of the guys who teed off. It was 35 mph wind with driving rain. It's a 5-iron going 110. It's an eight-club wind — I don't know what it is. It's s—, is what it is. It was awful. I mean, call it what you want — it was a 9-iron flying 210 and a 5-iron going 110. It was disgusting. It was one of the worst days of tournament conditions I've ever seen. It was shocking."
Rodriguez, who saw his man, Garcia , play one of his best rounds: "He played unreal golf under those conditions. He was in the middle of the whole thing, other than the first three or four holes. I remember dinner after the round; my face was still frozen." ["I feel like I shot 5 or 6 under par," Garcia said after his round.]
Arthur, deputy chief marshal: "Our eldest son was working in the locker room, helping the players, and he said Tiger Woods just sat there with his head in his hands for about 10 or 15 minutes. That was after he'd pulled it all together and given all his interviews and everything else. I don't think he knew quite what had happened. It was like, What on earth have I done?"
McLaren, Waldorf's caddie, watched his boss, who had been tied for the lead through 36 holes, go out in 45 and come back in 32: "He'd hit in a bush on the sixth hole and we found the ball and went back to the tee — and I said, 'From here on in, our focus is purely to find the ball and make the most solid contact we can and think of nothing else.' We didn't care about where it went or score or anything else. It was, without question, the worst day ever."