Amazing Watson still in front
No Tiger Woods or Padraig Harrington in contention – but a thrilling last day at the Open Championship lies in store.
No Tiger Woods in sight, no Padraig Harrington in contention – but a thrilling last day, at the 138th Open Championship lies in store, nevertheless.
Twelve months after 53-year-old Greg Norman led by two at Birkdale, 59-year-old Tom Watson is 18 holes away from what would be a golfing miracle at Turnberry.
The five-time champion, born when Clement Attlee was Prime Minister and Harry S Truman President, is an amazing 11 years older than the previous oldest major winner.
Yet after falling from two ahead to one behind with three holes of his third round to play Watson, back at the scene of his 1977 “Duel in the Sun” victory over Jack Nicklaus, produced more moments of inspiration – perhaps even divine intervention – to regain the lead.
In went a 30-footer on the 16th, the green where he had holed from 60 feet the previous day, and a kindly bounce at the par five next set up a two-putt birdie.
With a par on the last Watson, trying to equal Harry Vardon’s six Claret Jugs against a field that includes someone 43 years younger than him, signed for a 71 and, on four under par, leads by one.
His closest challengers now are Tasmanian Mathew Goggin and England’s Ross Fisher, for whom a first major title may yet come on the day his wife Jo gives birth to their first child.
She was due on Tuesday and he has been saying all along he will pull out if she goes into labour – even if he has a six-shot lead.
As it is, birdies on the 16th and 17th like Watson meant a 70 for Fisher, while Goggin, who has not won a tournament anywhere since 1999 and was first reserve for the tournament until Wednesday of last week, moved up from joint ninth with a 69.
In joint fourth place, only two back, are Fisher’s compatriot Lee Westwood and South African Retief Goosen, while the American Ryder Cup pair of Jim Furyk and Stewart Cink are the only other two players under par.
Westwood had joined Goggin and Watson in the leadt with a birdie on the long 17th, but from the centre of the last fairway he came up short in a bank of dense rough.
His first chip snagged in the grass and the ball hardly moved, but while a double bogey would have left a horrible taste in his mouth, he then got up and down to drop only one stroke and fall back into joint second place.
In June last year Worksop hope Lee Westwood was one putt away from joining Woods and Rocco Mediate in a play-off at the US Open, but this week began with him beating the world number one by seven in their head-to-head battle over the first 36 holes.
Westwood, who has lost three play-offs since his last victory at the 2007 British Masters, said: “I’m just trying to play myself into position basically and managing to do that.
“I was confident coming into the week and I fed off that confidence. Even when it’s blowing 15-20 miles an hour this golf course has got teeth and they’ve been tough with the flags.
“The more experiences you have the more equipped you become to handle most situations.
“Having played that last round with Tiger and learnt a lot I can carry that on through to tomorrow.
“I think I’m ready to win an Open. I’ll be very patient and try not to make too many mistakes.”
What an 11 days it would complete for his caddie Billy Foster if he won. Last Thursday Foster did a 90-mile charity walk from Loch Lomond to Turnberry and has so far raised close to £42,000.
Watson and Marino took to the links one ahead of Mark Calcavecchia, the 1989 champion who at 49 was also trying to re-write the record books for oldest major winners.
With all due respect to the other two – even before they shot 76 and 77 respectively – most eyes were on how the oldest man in the 156-strong field would continue his amazing journey.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could win,” said Watson, who was on offer at 2,500/1 before the tournament, and the opening holes gave him no reason to change his opinion.
He did pull his drive into sand on the 489-yard third, but saved par with a superb pitch to seven feet and then, in more sand on the demanding fifth, a 14-footer kept him five under.
When he failed to get up and down from another bunker at the short sixth, he slipped into a tie with Goosen. But the South African, having birdied the second, was in deep trouble on the long seventh by then and after he double-bogeyed, Watson was on in two there and two-putted for a birdie that took him two ahead.
Two holes later, however, he three-putted from the back of the green to turn in 36 and at four under one in front of Fisher, whose only deviations from par on the outward half were a curling 20-footer for birdie at the third and three-putt bogey at the fifth.
Westwood had bogeyed the third after driving into sand and had to wait until a brilliant approach to four feet on the 12th for his first birdie – but that was good enough to lift him only two behind.
And that became one when Watson three-putted again on the 12th to be joint leader with Goggin, who after being called into the field as first reserve last week had produced a 69 to set the clubhouse target.
The former Australian amateur champion earned a special cheer on the 16th green – not for his approach shot, but for running all the way after it so he could mark the ball before a gust blew it into the ditch.
“I was knackered,” he said of his 200-yard dash, although to be honest Usain Bolt should not feel threatened.
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