by Jeff Skinner
Tom Watson continued his astonishing play at The Open today with a miraculous salvaging of a round that could have possibly put him out of the running. After he started the day with a birdie on the first, he bogeyed five of the next six holes and stood at one under par, quickly falling off the top of the leader board and back into the pack. Watson drew on his years of Open Championship experience over the next eleven holes and waged a battle reminiscent of his legendary Duel in the Sun with Nicklaus in 1977. However his foe wasn’t Nicklaus or any other golfer. His battle was with the wind and the elements, and his swing and himself and the sentiment that his first day’s round was a fluke. We have seen it before. A great older golfer plays a brilliant first round, only to blow up on the next day to disappear from contention. This was not to be the case with Watson. He knew the front would be brutal in this twenty mile per hour wind. He knew if he could hang on and keep his wits about him he had a chance to score on the back nine. It was a plan executed to perfection. He started with a twenty five foot putt for birdie on nine and followed that with another birdie on eleven. Four straight pars left him on the sixteenth green with a monster putt for birdie. “I made two field goals out there” referring to his two long putts that fell for birdie. His bird at sixteen put him to four under, one stroke back of leader Steve Marino. He had done it. He was able to rescue his round, after shooting thirty eight on the front he was still only one back of the lead. As he walked to the eighteenth green, it was not the walk of an aging legend taking a final curtain call. It was the walk of determination and grit. It was the walk of a champion. The crowd welcomed their adopted son with a roaring ovation and for a second he must have had the sensation of 1977 all over again. But Watson still had some work to do. His long putt from all the way across the green curled towards the hole and looked to be tracking to the cup. As it fell over the edge for another amazing birdie, Watson gave a little kick and a huge smile in approval. He was tied for the lead and has all intentions of winning the Claret Jug.
Watson spoke of the spirituality of Turnberry yesterday and today said, “Something was on my side today. The spirits were on my side.” Watson is not blind to the effects that age has in store for him. “It was a fine walk going up eighteen,” he said, “I don’t have too many years left playing in The Open Championship. I had some wonderful memories…maybe I can make one more memory here.”
Watson congratulated his playing partners with hearty handshakes with Sergio Garcia and British Amateur Champion Matteo Manassero. As he walked off the green he placed his arm around Manassero and gave him some words of encouragement. For a second it looked like 1977 again, with Watson and Nicklaus walking off with arms around each other. Maybe Watson can make one more grand memory here, what a memory it would be.