Tom Terrific: Open To The Possibilities

British Open Third Round

Up By A Stroke, Watson, 59, One Round From Golf History

July 19, 2009|By Chuck Culpepper | Chuck Culpepper,Tribune Newspapers

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- Golf had another of its inconceivable dreams Saturday.

In this one, the image of 53-year-old Greg Norman in 2008 walking up No. 18 at Royal Birkdale down the coast in England with a 54-hole lead in the British Open had not been sufficient, for clearly, Norman had been too bloody young.

No, this one starred a man with a phalanx of wrinkles, a bunch of glowing 32-year-old memories and an age just seven weeks shy of 60, so it made sense that somebody asked Tom Watson whether he needed to pinch himself.

"I don't need to," he said. "I'm awake. I know I'm awake."

The reminder did help, because a woozy enchantment just won't let go of the British Open.

It's on the leader board, where the name "T. Watson" somehow appears at 4-under-par, one shot above Ross Fisher and Matthew Goggin, two shots above Lee Westwood, hinting that a man who has not won a major in 26 years could become the oldest major winner by 11 years over 1968 PGA Championship winner Julius Boros.

"The first day here, yeah, let the old geezer have his day in the sun, you know, 65," Watson said. "The second day you said, 'Well, that's OK, that's OK.' And then now today you kind of perk up your ears and say, 'This old geezer might have a chance to win.' ... I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know one thing. I feel good about what I did today. I feel good about my game plan. And who knows, it might happen."

The enchantment is hovering around No. 18 because on Friday Watson holed a crazy 60-foot putt there and did a little one-kick dance, and on Saturday Watson hit his approach onto the green and walked down to roaring applause, then said to caddie Neil Oxman, "Bruce is with us today," meaning Watson's late caddie Bruce Edwards, who died of Lou Gehrig's disease in 2003.

"Don't make me cry," Oxman said.

"So he started crying and I started crying," Watson said.

The magic is even in the putter, an innocent-looking beast that has tortured Watson for decades. Yet he has spent the week making bombs. He made those two 60-footers on Friday on Nos. 16 and 18. He made four nearly absurd up-and-downs Saturday, including a save from a bunker on No. 3 and a rugged 18-footer on No. 14.

And then, just when his round seemed to teeter with a bogey on No. 15 and a plummet to 2-under, that grouchy old short club made a 40-footer on No. 16.

"Every now and then it works, you know," he said. "And, boy, is it working at the right time right now."

It's in the eyes of the galleries who applaud Watson's every approach toward them, and of the fellow players, who comprehend the kismet of a 59-year-old mastering their hard art better than all the 155 other, younger players.

"I joked with him and I said, 'You could probably be the king of Scotland!' " third-round playing partner Steve Marino said.

"He said to me earlier this week ... that he wanted to win this championship so he can keep playing it," Justin Rose said, referring to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club's fresh age limit of 60. "The greatest links player of all time deserves to play the Open Championship for as long as he wants. If I don't win, I'll certainly be rooting for Tom Watson."

Mostly, though, the enchantment concerns Turnberry, where Watson has played six different championships, which he deems advantageous on a course so many - including Tiger Woods, who missed the cut Friday - had not played, and where his memories include his 1997 win over Jack Nicklaus in the famed "Duel in the Sun."

He greeted his three bogeys as "part of the game." He stuck to a plan he devised but would not reveal. He didn't even feel tension, saying: "For some reason today I just didn't feel nervous out there. I felt, I guess 'serene' again is the right word for it."

As in 2008 with Norman, who shot 77 and finished third, the whole thing hurtles toward today. Add this tale: Norman said before this Open he had dined with Watson, and they had discussed how golf trumps tennis, the sport of Norman's wife, Chris Evert, because people can play it well longer.

Now a 59-year-old will go out to try to give that assertion its ultimate proof. He doesn't even expect to feel nerves. "No, I don't," Watson said. "I feel like my nerves are too well fried to feel them."

Leader board

The leader ...

Tom Watson ... 65-70-71 - 206

... selected followers

Mathew Goggin ... 66-72-69 - 207

Ross Fisher ... 69-68-70 - 207

Lee Westwood ... 68-70-70 - 208

Retief Goosen ... 67-70-71 - 208

Jim Furyk ... 67-72-70 - 209

Stewart Cink ... 66-72-71 - 209

Bryce Molder ... 70-73-67 - 210

Thongchai Jaidee ... 69-72-69 - 210

Richard S. Johnson ... 70-72-60 - 211

Boo Weekley ... 67-72-72 - 211

Angel Cabrera ... 69-70-72 - 211

Steve Marino ... 67-68-76 - 211

John Daly ... 68-72-72 - 212

Sergio Garcia ... 70-69-76 - 215

BRITISH OPEN

Through today

Turnberry, Scotland

Today's TV: 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. TNT; 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., chs. 2, 7

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