The desolating end of a recurring failure dream secured an early start for Roy: a dream of being at school in the summer term and discovering that he’d been missing a key maths test for the whole year, and now he had to sit a key exam. His reason for missing the class changed. Sometimes it was because his timetable had been wrong, but usually it was because he couldn’t find the classroom. It was never in the corridor it was supposed to be in. And suddenly the corridor itself was unfamiliar and Roy was in the wrong building altogether, lost and scared. Once or twice he had found the right classroom but was frightened to go in, fearing he would be out of his depth. Then he’d be turning his exam paper over to find calamity staring him in the face.
Roy stepped out into his back garden, disturbed. He breathed in the damp grass smell, sighed as a dozen wet summer throwbacks haunted him, went back inside, drank tea, ate toast, the radio quietly wittering: McIlroy well positioned; Woods threatening, would the old Tiger make a charge? Roy settled himself at the kitchen table with his archive. The very old photos were mysteries. Cameras and film being luxuries in those days, each snapshot was of a special event and, Roy surmised, an event in itself. There were garden shots, seaside shots, car-owner shots. A number were of groups of several people. In some cases, Roy wasn’t even sure which were his mum and dad.
He switched the TV on at nine. The reporter from Lytham, Hazel, Scottish, cheerful girl, suggested live spectators should bring wellies. The cameras lingered on standing water in bunkers and then latched on to McIlroy. His start was erratic but the good cancelled the bad, and then he found greenside sand on the ninth. The ball lay awkwardly. The high, steep side of the trap was a ridged cliff. McIlroy swung his club, his ball scrambled up to the cliff edge and fell back. McIlroy’s head dropped just as fast. He looked down at the ball, hands on hips, beyond disgust, walked away.
Roy was a McIlroy-doubter, but put himself in the player’s place: just the few million watching and a long day of repeat viewings to come; you had to walk away; not losing it was vital to not dropping yet more shots, you had to draw a mental line under your maddening fluff, limit the damage as best you could. Roy knew that. Every golfer knew that. But the incentive was so much greater for the stars. You daren’t lose it in front of that many watchers, the shame would be too great, your embarrassing tantrum would be re-run for all time, in the wider public mind it would eclipse any string of wins in majors, you would never dig yourself out of that pit.
Azim’s mild attacked of bunker fury was once more in Roy’s mind; an unsuspected side of his father-in-law-to-be had emerged, shocking and red-raw. And yet, in Roy’s eyes, the only eyes to witness it, Azim had survived. In the clubhouse he’d looked back on his werewolf moment with candour and clarity, a matter for regret yet mostly just a comic interlude, and it was back to courtesy, civility and retail trade philosophy.
Roy sent Kristie an email: “Are you still as beautiful as when you left?”
In the Tour, Cavendish sprinted to a victory in stage 20 while Wiggins retained the yellow jersey, and nothing, surely, could stop him now. In the Test, England slid to 385 all out. South Africa lost an opener for nought and Amla came in to join his captain Smith, who was playing his one hundredth Test. Roy remembered Smith as a tyro skipper, barely into his twenties yet mountainous and thirsty for a fight. Amla, he knew far less about. All he remembered of him from highlight clips he’d seen was his Muslim beard.
Roy quickly took to Amla: an effortless cover driver moved him from two to six, another four was then caressed to the same place; a clip off the legs got him to 40. In the commentary box, David Gower: “He never seems to change his expression, always prepared just to wait and wait and wait for the ball that’s there to hit.” A hard, high, one-hand, half-chance evaded Strauss at slip, and Roy was glad.
Roy did some thinking work about the archive then settled down with the golf, which extended to the beginning of dusk. Another good round from Scott, but an American, Snedeker, shot a 64, taking him to ten-under and a one-stroke lead. Others were edging into the frame: more Americans, Els, McDowell, Lawrie, a Dane. McIlroy had slumped to two-over. Clarke, defending champ, missed the cut. Woods chipped in from a bunker on the last, taking him to six under and third. “Oh, give us a smile Tiger,” said Peter Alliss, Voice of Golf. “Don’t look so cheesed off with life.” Tiger did. Roy thought that he would find it hard to smile ever again had he been exposed the way Woods had.
Kristie replied to Roy’s email: “It’s a long time since you said something that nice.”
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