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Watson returns to leaderboard

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July 17, 2009
— On the eve of the British Open, Tom Watson got a modern-day text message from Jack Nicklaus’ wife. Then it was time to turn back the clock at Turnberry.

Thirty-two years after his epic “Duel in the Sun” with the Golden Bear, Watson took advantage of pristine conditions on the very same course to shoot a stunning 5-under 65 on Thursday. He held the lead until Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez stole it away late in the day with a 64, only one shot off the record for lowest score in any major championship.


Still, it was Watson, the 59-year-old, five-time Open champion, who maintained the lead role—if only for a day.


“What a legend,” Jimenez said.


Watson had been practicing well all week, and got an extra boost a day earlier when Barbara Nicklaus sent a text wishing him good luck.


“I texted her back and said, “You know, we really miss you over here,”‘ Watson said. “And I really meant it. It’s not the same without Jack playing in the tournament.”


Nicklaus played his final British Open at St. Andrews in 2005 and faded into retirement. But the guy who beat him at Turnberry in ‘77—with a 65 on the final day, no less—still has a few shots left.


Watson kept the ball in the fairway, rolled in five birdies and bailed himself out the few times he got into trouble, including a testy 6-footer at the final hole to preserve a bogey-free round. His score was matched by Ben Curtis, the surprise winner of the 2003 Open.


“Not bad for an almost 60-year-old,” said Watson, who turns that age in September.


Tiger Woods didn’t have nearly as much fun. On a day for going low along the Scottish coast—it was sunny until early evening, with little breeze off the Irish Sea—the world’s No. 1 player struggled to a 71 with one wayward shot after another. He even dunked his ball in Wilson’s Burn, which led to the last of his four bogeys at No. 16.


“I certainly made a few mistakes out there,” said Woods, who now faces the largest 18-hole deficit of his Open career. “Realistically, I probably should have shot about 1- or 2-under par.”


When the round ended, Woods headed back to the range to work on his swing, which looked downright ugly with his right hand flying off the club. His first signs of frustration emerged at No. 3, when he took an angry swipe and mumbled something under his breath. By the time the day was done, he had angrily tossed away his clubs several times.


Six years ago, Curtis was virtually unknown except to family and friends when he won the claret jug on his first try. He missed the cut on his next three attempts, but has finished in the top 10 at the Open the last two years. Now, he’s confident of making a run at another Open championship.



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