Conjuring memories of his brilliant 1977 triumph over Jack Nicklaus in the Duel in the Sun, 59-year-old Tom Watson blitzed the Ailsa Course at Turnberry for a 65 to coast to the top of the opening-round leader board of the 138th British Open.
“Not bad for an almost-60-year-old, is it?” said Watson, who collected the second of his record-tying five Open titles at Turnberry with a pair of closing 65s more than three decades ago. “I don’t live in the past, but it [Duel in the Sun] certainly is at the forefront of a lot of conversations this week. Sure, I drew some inspiration from that.”
Neither of Watson’s playing partners was born when Watson dropped Nicklaus by a stroke in arguably the greatest major championship ever played. But Sergio Garcia (70) clearly appreciated Watson’s ageless modern performance.
“The quality of the shots he hit was awesome to watch,” said the 29-year-old Spaniard, a gracious witness in spite of his own erratic performance.
Perhaps the most stunning feature of Watson’s 5-under effort on the 7,204-yard layout was just how seemingly easily it was accomplished. With hardly a wisp of wind to defend the Ayrshire links, Watson hit all but two fairways and found 15 greens in regulation during his bogey-free stroll.
“I think there was some spirituality out there today, just the serenity of it was pretty neat,” said Watson, who was warmed by a good-luck text from Barbara Nicklaus on Wednesday afternoon. “I feel inspired playing here.”
And no player in the field boasts more experience at Turnberry than Watson, who has played three British Opens (1977, 1986 and 1994) and two Senior British Opens (2003 and 2006) on the breathtaking links. His record in those five events: Win-T35-T11-Win-T23.
“I’ve played this course in six championships now. You get to know the course,” said the eight-time major winner. “Links golf is not played very much … The pros don’t play links golf except in the Open … The older guys have an advantage. We’ve played under these conditions, and we kind of get the feel for it. That feel is worth its weight in gold when you’re playing.”
Golf’s other “TW” exhibited no feel for the links in his opener, as World No. 1 and overwhelming favorite Tiger Woods sagged to a first-round 71 defined by repeated adventures in Turnberry’s wicked rough.