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In-demand McGinley revels in a “magical” Old Course

Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer and Miguel Angel Jimenez cross the Swilcan Bridge during the Senior Open.
Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer and Miguel Angel Jimenez cross the Swilcan Bridge during the Senior Open.

Short of taking on the Brexit negotiations – and he’s not free for that – there seems to be nothing that Paul McGinley isn’t doing at the moment.

Broadcasting with Sky Sports. Lecturing and public speaking. Having his successful Ryder Cup plan dissected by students at the London Business School. Ambassadorships with companies. Sitting on the board of the European Tour. Acting as the new host – succeeding Rory McIlroy – for the Irish Open next year.

The one thing he isn’t doing enough, he agrees, is playing golf. If even for enjoyment’s sake.

“If you can’t enjoy days like this, irrespective of your score, you’ll never enjoy golf,” said the 2014 Ryder Cup skipper after beginning the Senior Open on the Old Course with a six-under 66, to sit one behind the leader, American Kirk Triplett.

“Playing the Old Course on a day like this, it’s magical and mystical,” continued McGinley. “Today was such a good day and when you put a good score on top of it, it’s really special.”

It was indeed an exceedingly pleasant day at the Old Course, a slower pace to things after the frenzy of the Open Championship last week, and warm temperatures although never uncomfortable with a cooling breeze in the prevailing direction. That is, with you on the way out, and in your face coming home.

As ever, the back nine had everyone ramming on the brakes. Some, like early leader Triplett, just managed to keep moving forward. Mostly everyone had to give ground, McGinley included, a bogey at the 15th meaning he stayed out of the lead.

“I haven’t played that much, I played seven events last year and I think three this year,” he said. “I’d like to play more but I have all these other commitments.

“But I still love to play. I’d love to play a little bit in America and a little here in Europe, but it’s no what’s driving me.”

The competition, and playing at the Old Course, is what has made him make time to play here.

“Competition is why I still love to play and it’s why I will always play,” he said. “And I’ve always done well here. I’ve played every year pretty much since 1993 was my first Dunhill Cup, playing with (Ronan) Rafferty and (David) Feherty up until missing last year.

“We’re not playing the very back tees as they do in the Open and even during the Dunhill this week,” he pointed out. “Running as much as it is now, I like the back nine when that wind was quartering in off the left, I think that’s a really challenging nine holes, even if the pin positions weren’t as difficult on the last six or seven holes as they could have been.

“But it’s always the same here with that wind, you’ve got to make hay on the way out, the first ten holes really. You get a lot of opportunities in that wind.”

Pick of birdies, par on 17, I always play it as a par four and half, I try to get it on to the front part of the green and two putt from there, if not, five is not losing a lot to the field. I kind of blocked my second shot trying to hit a little draw, the whole idea is avoid the bunker and the road.

The pick of his shots for the day wasn’t even a birdie – a solid four on the 17th to preserve his score was his highlight.

“I try to practise a lot, I’m playing money games with members at Sunningdale to stay sharp, but I’m doing lots of things and I’ve just been taken on a whole new trajectory I wasn’t expecting,” he said.

“It’s been interesting but I never saw myself as a teacher and I still don’t. If anything it’s taken me back to school, I’m doing a lot of new reading.”

Triplett had three wins in main tour career, and six so far on the Champions Tour, and hadn’t felt comfortable coming into the championship.

“This place is really something special, and when the bounces go your way, it’s really fun,” he said. “I’m sure at some point this week we’ll find out if I can handle the bad bounces too.

“I never feel all that competitive over here. I always feel a little off balance, so that’s probably the real reason I don’t (come that often). But I’ve played well here and finished 50th in a couple Open Championships.”

The best entertainement of the day, however, came from an outstanding crowd pleasing three-ball of Bernhard Langer (-5), Miguel Angel Jimenez (-4) and Tom Watson (-3).

“I think we did feed off each other, we enjoyed it,” said the defending champion, who birdied the last to stay with two of the lead. “We were a cumulative 12-under or something.”

Watson, meanwhile, was a little sore that he had left a birdie putt short on the last to shoot his age.

“A putt to shoot my age…and I dogged it,” he said, laughing at himself. However the five-time Open, three-time Senior Open champion has almost a permanent twinkle in the eye these days, and he got enthused about his approach to the 17th.

“I had a good lie and I chased a bullet 3-iron and it got up on the upper level,” he said. “That’s a great accomplishment to get it on the upper level at the Road Hole.

“It was 188 to the front cut and 200 to the top of the table. I hit it exactly 200. The wind was pretty much in my face.

“I’ve been practising. Sssshh. Don’t tell anyone!”

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