Then the ball was tossed to Shrubsole jersey of Somerset

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Padraig Harrington stands on the 17th fairway at Royal Birkdale, a five wood and the destiny of the 2008 Open in his hands. He strides towards his ball, checks, and then stares intently at the pin. The process is repeated a second time, then a third. Given the high stakes – ripping a 272-yard shot over a praetorian guard of bunkers and on to the narrowest of greens would be dicey enough without the pressure of leading by two shots on the penultimate hole – he needs to be sure.But as he sets his stance, the BBC’s commentary team fear Harrington’s boldness is veering into recklessness, especially in the 40mph winds lassoing at his trousers.“Perhaps he doesn’t know where he is?” suggests Ken Brown. “He’s two Adidas Travis Zajac Authentic Jersey ahead. This is a bit of a risk into this wind, don’t you think?”Then Peter Alliss pipes up. “I would have thought so. He is aiming into the grandstand virtually on the left,” he says. “Two shots ahead …”Another former pro, Wayne Grady, spots a further problem: “There’s danger here on the right too.”But Harrington knows his playing partner Greg Norman, who is three behind, has a chance of an eagle on the par-five 17th. Understandably he wants to win this thing himself, not leave it on the clubs of others.He sets. He strikes. The contact is perfect – so perfect his caddie shouts “great shot” while the ball is in the air, something he does once in a blue moon – and as it lands off the bank and rolls tenderly to within four feet of the flag, Birkdale bellows its approval.Meanwhile in the living room of Harrington’s coach, Bob Torrance, the phone starts to ring. “Dad,” says his son Sam, the former Ryder Cup player and captain. “I have just seen the best golf shot of my life.”Nine years on, Harrington remembers every microsecond like it happened yesterday. “I was facing all the trouble in the world on that shot but I was feeling bulletproof,” he says. “I had played well all day, I had swung the club well. And the five wood was my favourite club so I was extremely confident.”The rest is history. Harrington sank his eagle putt and his rivals’ hopes, to claim his second successive Claret Jug, four shots clear of Ian Poulter in second.Padraig Harrington with the Claret Jug in 2008. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images This week Birkdale hosts the Open for the first time since Harrington’s glorious triumph. Yet in the intervening years the landscape for golf has changed, at least in Britain. The way viewers consume all sports – frequently on the go rather than on the sofa – is shorter and snappier. Participation levels and viewing figures for golf in the UK are on the slide. Even those in charge accept they need to attract a younger, more diverse audience and find a way to retain people whose work and family commitments mean they are not able to spend four hours on a course.If there is an edge anywhere, McIlroy said, it may be in “the mental side of the game and being maybe a little bit better in that aspect than the rest of the guys”. This, he explained, “is really about knowing yourself and knowing what works for you and what thoughts work and what techniques work”. This rings true. Especially at the Open. In the decade since Woods last won a major, the average age of the Open champion has been 37.During that time, McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen were the only players under 30 to win the Claret Jug. The rest – Padraig Harrington, Stewart Cink, Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, and Henrik Stenson – were all in their late 30s or early 40s.So if you are looking for likely winners, you could start by skimming through the players’ DOBs. But then, it is only a theory. And the day before the tournament starts, theories are a lot easier to come by in Birkdale than tickets, and a deal cheaper too. Almost everyone here has got one, about how the wet ground will give the advantage to the long-hitters, or that the course suits those who can shape the ball left to right, or the players willing to compromise their swing to keep it low beneath the wind. On Wednesday, the storm finally broke around 6pm. We will need to wait a while longer yet to see which is right, and who is the winner.A bullish Rory McIlroy has insisted his Open Championship prospects have been understated, including by bookmakers, with the four-times major winner adamant he can rip up the form book.McIlroy begins his pursuit of a second Open after a run of three missed cuts in four events. Two of them, at the Irish and Scottish Open tournaments, came in his last two starts. An unusual year has seen equipment change and injury, both mitigating factors in his slide to No4 in the world.


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