Turning Back The Clock

British Open First Round

59-year-old Watson Tied For 2nd After Opening With 5-under 65

July 17, 2009|By Chuck Culpepper | Chuck Culpepper,Tribune Newspapers

TURNBERRY, Scotland - -In a stunning development at the British Open, a 59-year-old man on the verge of 60 has revealed that he actually read a text message and then successfully completed a reply.

This improbable scenario has helped illustrate the awesome span of the career of one Tom Watson, who has shot a glowing 65 at Turnberry while dredging mysticism from floating dirt in the prehistoric era of 1977, and has shot a glowing 65 at Turnberry while gaining "serenity" from a sitting message on a sleek gadget in the digital era of 2009.

"Don't ask me to Twit or tweet; I don't tweet," he protested, but even those elusive skills may be within his potential considering his perfectly apt fielding of a text from a certain Barbara Nicklaus of North Palm Beach, Fla.

Fifty-nine, after all, could be the new 29 after an enchanting Thursday by the Firth of Clyde in which Watson led all the day until the crafty pup of 45, Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, just pipped him with a 50-foot birdie at sundown on No. 18. "He's a legend here with us," Jimenez said.

Serially for 32 years, Watson has spoken of the wafting dust kicked up by galleries during the famed "Duel in the Sun" of 1977 against Jack Nicklaus, and how it lent a storybook quality when viewing it down the fairway.

Suddenly on Thursday, some 32 years after Nicklaus shot 68-70-65-66 but Watson shot 68-70-65-65, Watson spoke of the poignancy of the text from his rival's wife of 49 years. It complimented Watson's caddie. It wished Watson good luck. It summoned Watson's thumb skills.

"I texted her back," he said miraculously, "and I said, 'You know, we really miss you over here.' And I really meant it. It's not the same without Jack playing in the tournament. And today, I think there was some spirituality out there today, just the serenity of it was pretty neat."

He has solved Turnberry at age 27 for the second of his five British Open titles. He has mostly deciphered it at 44 when he led after two rounds but missed a 5-foot putt on Sunday in 1994 and plunged to 11th in his biggest disappointment, after which the Watsons and the Nicklauses dined and wined, after which Jack Nicklaus cajoled Watson into playing the short course at 11 p.m. for comic relief. He has cracked Turnberry at age 53 with a 64 in the final round of the Senior Open.

And he has outfoxed Turnberry at 59 on a pristine day after starting off with his best feeling since ... since ... since, well, "Don't ask memory questions, please. I don't know. You're really taxing me now." All day long, he drew raves from young(er) golfers.

Tiger Woods, who fought himself toward a 71, winked and said, "Obviously, he knows how to play the golf course." Playing partner Sergio Garcia said, "I think if Watson plays the way he played today, he can beat Tiger Woods and everyone else." The 20-year-old sensation Rory McIlroy said, "I think he's 39 years older than me, so if I can go around Turnberry in 39 years' time in 65, I'll be very happy."

Even the 1995 champion John Daly said he watched Watson all morning and called it "one of those golf-god days," factoring in that the 1989 champion Mark Calcavecchia shot 67 at age 49, the 1996 champion Tom Lehman shot 68 at 50, the 1998 champion Mark O'Meara shot 67 at 52 and Daly himself shot 68 at 43.

Watson said that at his age, "You just don't know how you're going to wake up. ... And the golf swing might be there, it might not be there." But he said, "The older guys have an advantage," meaning their "feel" for links conditions that let him "stand up there on the 15th hole and say I cut this 4-iron in there against a crosswind and held it right in the middle of the green" in some previous Open. And he said, "It doesn't feel a whole lot out of the ordinary from 32 years ago except that I don't have the confidence in my putting that I had 32 years ago."

One year after Greg Norman charmed a British Open at age 53 by leading after both the second and third rounds and partly crediting his newfound tennis habit with his new wife Chris Evert, Watson already has charmed a nascent Open at 59 by leading a cavalry charge of under-par scores for most of the day on a defenseless course and credited his making of an instructional DVD.

"I think it's helped me kind of solidify what am I, what are the important things about the golf swing that I want to teach you," the oldest man in the 156-man field said. "And that's how I teach myself. That's how I go back to myself."

For clearly here's a man of the 20th century but also the 21st, a man who not only knows how to text but also the meaning of the term "DVD."

Leader board

The leader ...

Miguel Angel Jimenez

31-33 - 64

... selected followers

Tom Watson

33-32 - 65 Ben Curtis

33-32 - 65 Kenichi Kuboya

35-30 - 65 Stewart Cink

32-34 - 66 Mark Calcavecchia

34-33 - 67 Mark O'Meara

33-34 - 67 Vijay Singh

33-34 - 67 Retief Goosen

34-33 - 67 Jim Furyk

33-34 - 67 John Daly

33-35 - 68 Martin Kaymer

36-33 - 69 Sergio Garcia

34-36 - 70 David Duval

37-34 - 71 Kenny Perry

34-37 - 71 Tiger Woods

34-37 - 71

BRITISH OPEN

Through Sunday

Turnberry Resort (Ailsa Course), South Ayrshire, Scotland

Today's TV: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., TNT

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