Majestic Watson rekindles 1977 magic
Five-time Open champion Tom Watson has rolled back the years to claim the early first round clubhouse lead at Turnberry.
Tom Watson freely admits that two months short of his 60th birthday his memory is not what it used to be
But the five-time Open champion remembered something very special today – how to play Turnberry.
And after a simply stunning five under par 65 had given Watson the lead for much of the day he declared: “I feel that I’m playing well enough to win. I feel inspired playing here.”
The oldest man in the 156-strong field says he has never seen anything more stunning in golf than Tiger Woods winning the 2000 US Open by 15 shots.
But if he does go on to equal Harry Vardon’s record six victories on Sunday it will surely take the place of that feat.
Greg Norman coming close to the Claret Jug at 53 last year has nothing on this.
“It would be amazing,” said Watson, who underwent hip replacement surgery last October and at The Masters in April – his last major round – collapsed to an 83.
That was on the beast that is now Augusta National, though. This was round on a Turnberry course that could not have been more docile.
Even though he agreed “she was defenceless”, nothing should detract from what Watson achieved. Woods, after all, managed only a one over par 71 and Norman slumped to a 77.
The Australian was back on the links where he won in 1986, but Watson’s famous “Duel in the Sun” with Jack Nicklaus is now 32 years in the past.
On that occasion Watson finished with back-to-back 65s and went on to shoot another 65 to be the halfway leader the last time the Open was staged here 15 years ago when Nick Price went on to win.
With the 2003 British Senior Open title won over this lay-out as well, nobody knows it better and he noted: “There are some certain shots out here that the kids are unfamiliar with.
“Playing the practice rounds I felt very good about the way I was hitting the ball. And because links golf is not played very much the older guys have an advantage.
“We kind of get a feel for it and that feel is worth its weight in gold.”
Just prior to the championship Watson had received a “good luck” text from Nicklaus’s wife Barbara and he stated: “There’s something slightly spiritual about today – and the serenity of it was pretty neat.”
Playing partner Sergio Garcia, who shot a level par 70, called Watson’s display “awesome” and needless to say 16-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero, the third member of the group and the youngest-ever British amateur champion, was blown away by it too.
“I wish I had his putting stroke,” said Watson. He knows that, as in 1994 when he fell back to 11th, it is the club most likely to let him down.
Not in the opening round, though. After an eight-footer went in on the first he holed from 20 feet at the third, 12 on the 10th and then eight again on the 12th and 17th.
After Watson had finished attention turned to Padraig Harrington as he began his bid to become the first player since Peter Thomson in 1956 to win three years in a row.
The Dubliner, of course, has missed his past five Tour cuts, but he followed four opening pars with a birdie and remained one under after seven holes.
Paul Casey, at world number three Europe’s current top-ranked player, was going even better. An eagle on the seventh lifted him to four under and alongside two more of last year’s Ryder Cup team Soren Hansen and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
None of the first half of the field, however, could even match Watson’s effort.
A stroke behind in joint second place – and all in the clubhouse – were American Ryder Cup pair Stewart Cink and Steve Stricker, Colombian Camilo Villegas and Australians Matthew Goggin and John Senden.
A week ago Senden was only the seventh reserve for the event and it was only on arriving from Texas on Tuesday that Jeev Milkha Singh’s side muscle injury let him in.
As for Colin Montgomerie and Sandy Lyle, the two Scots in the headlines when Lyle reignited the row over Montgomerie’s “wrong drop” in Indonesia four years ago, they stood level par and four over respectively.
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