Old-timers take center stage at Muirfield

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“I understand I’m not a spring chicken,” he added, “or I may not putt as good or chip as good or whatever, but the quality of shots that I hit out there today, I would say, `Hey, that’s as good as I played when I was in my prime.’”

Another claret jug would surely clinch his place in the Hall of Fame.

Hamilton is not quite as confident about his chances of staying the course this week. When asked to describe the state of his game since winning the Open at Troon in 2004, he took his time before choosing one word: Terrible.

“I try not to reflect on it,” said the 47-year-old Hamilton, who hasn’t had a victory since beating Ernie Els in a playoff nine years ago. “It’s been trying, I guess. There’ve been days where I didn’t want to play.”

The 54-year-old Lehman, who won the Open at Lytham in 1996, rounded off the trio of unlikely American contenders after finishing birdie-birdie in the group after O'Meara.

If any of them go on to win on Sunday, they would become the oldest Open champion _ taking the record of Old Tom Morris (46 years, 99 days) from 1867.

The Faldo-Watson-Couples group maintained its loyal following but never caught fire.

Faldo barely plays nowadays _ his time is filled up with television commentary in the U.S., as well as charity work with the youth series that bears his name _ and was taking part in his first Open in three years at a course where he won in 1987 and 1992.

Pacing backward and forward, and frantically making practice swings as he looked up the narrow fairway on the first hole, he was a bag of nerves.

“It was scary going to that first tee,” Faldo said, shaking his head as if recalling a nightmare.

After steadying himself, he planted his drive in the middle of the fairway _ just like the old days _ the ball eventually dribbling down to the light rough. It proved to be the highlight of his round: He went on to shoot 79 on his 56th birthday.

Watson and Couples joined Sir Nick on his trip down memory lane with 75s.

Faldo doesn’t know whether Friday’s second round will be his last competitive 18 holes. He knows he won’t be competing at next year’s Open at Royal Liverpool but isn’t ruling out St. Andrews in 2015 just yet.

“Who knows? It wouldn’t be such a bad idea coming out at 60 just to keep yourself fit,” Faldo said. “I’ve got to pace myself. Come on, guys. This is one tournament in the last three years. Steady on. One in a row.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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