Open 2015: St Andrews wind and rain produce a classic contest
There were times during this year's Open Championship when the thought occurred: if golf did not already exist, nobody would think to invent it.
If aliens were watching St Andrews on Friday, when clusters of rain-sodden fans clung to corners of grandstands like tumbledown houses to the edge of a cliff; or on Saturday, when fans stared at empty fields for hours on end while a foul wind howled through, they might have thought we'd all finally lost it.
But golf's inherent absurdity, magnified by capricious links conditions, is also one of its greatest strengths. So after such an inauspicious beginning, a great Open bloomed.
When champion golfer Zach Johnson was handed the Claret Jug after seeing off Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in a tense play-off on the Old Course, the sun broke through and it started raining simultaneously. It summed up the tournament quite beautifully.
After that interminable Saturday, when 40mph gusts blew The Open into a Monday for only the second time in its history, there were those who were writing the whole thing off - "nothing to see here, fingers crossed the sun will shine at Troon next year and Rory McIlroy will be back to save the sport from ruin."
But golf is a long read, not a crash, bang, wallop comic. A golf tournament has subtle plot nuances involving a huge cast of characters. As such, following golf is cerebral, esoteric even, and the enjoyment it provides sometimes hard-earned.
Some plot lines trickle to the surface, almost unnoticed. Early on Saturday, Jordan Spieth, still on course to complete a calendar Grand Slam, was sent out to finish his second round. He parred two holes before being called in again. Had he played them in more clement conditions, who knows how things might have turned out. As it was, Spieth missed out on the play-off by one shot.
Other plot lines burst forth like geysers. Sunday's third round was one of the great days of Open golf, when big beasts jostled with unknown quantities and fresh-faced amateurs at the top of the leaderboard. After the long, hard yomp to the top of the hill, the chaotic descent towards the finish line had started.
On Monday, players knew that one slip might see them trampled under foot. Seeing two-time winner Padraig Harrington with his head in a gorse bush at the sixth hole, you sensed his race was run. When Spieth made a dog's dinner of the par-three eighth and signed for double-bogey, you felt much the same.
As the action bubbled, the imagination wandered. When Adam Scott grabbed the lead on 15 under par, thoughts turned to redemption. Three years ago at Royal Lytham, the Australian dropped four shots in his final four holes to hand the Claret Jug to Ernie Els.
Pretty much the same thing happened again at St Andrews, only this time Scott let five shots go in the last five holes. Sometimes, alas, those dreams of redemption turn to sickening deja vu.
At one point, there were four amateurs in the top 10. Could we have our first unpaid winner since 1930, when the Claret Jug was won by the great Bobby Jones? However, slowly but surely, the cream rose to the top.
But cream also curdles. Spieth bogeyed the 17th and needed a birdie at the last to extend his Open, but pitched into the Valley of Sin and could only make par. Jason Day, who made eight pars between the 10th and 17th, also required a three to make the play-off a four-way jamboree, but his birdie putt just missed.
Five groups earlier, Johnson had bent in a monster putt at the last to join Leishman in the clubhouse on 15 under. The look Johnson gave to his caddie Damon Green, who was busting his patented birdie dance across the green, said it all: "You know what? I think that might have just won me The Open…"
There might not have been any Britons in the play-off - Englishmen Justin Rose and Danny Willett finished four back - and the final threesome on the course might have disappointed those of a sentimental bent - many of the locals were rooting for Spain's perennial bridesmaid Sergio Garcia, who faded again.
But in Leishman, who carded 64 and 66 in his final two rounds, Oosthuizen, who blew the field away at St Andrews in 2010, and Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, there was plenty of pedigree.
And with the galleries packed, fans perched precariously on roofs and balconies, a lone, distant piper vying with the plaintive cries of seagulls as the crowds hushed and players prepared to take their shots, the denouement of the 144th Open Championship was something quite magical.
Remember, too, that many of those fans would have been watching golf for the first time in the flesh. Charging only £10 for admission on the extra day was wise indeed, opening up the game to a new audience, including plenty of kids. And so what was a logistical nightmare for the organisers also had its benefits.
It was an Open Championship that demonstrated once again what lovers of golf already knew - that the grand old sport is a strange old brew. We're lucky someone thought to invent it. Rory who?