- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 19, 2009


The 138th British Open now belongs to Major Tom. No matter what happens in Sunday’s finale at Turnberry, which Watson (4-under 206) enters leading Ross Fisher and Mathew Goggin by a stroke, this week’s proceedings will always be known as the Watson Open.

For the first couple of days, it was possible to keep the bagpipes in their case and hyperbole at bay because the 59-year-old Watson was sure to stumble among all the limber-backs on the Ayrshire coast. Well, he hasn’t, and now it’s time to wax a little nostalgic about Turnberry’s one-man, mind-bending, age-mocking time machine.

If Watson wins Sunday, collecting his record-tying sixth claret jug 26 years after his last Open triumph and 11 years later than the next-oldest major champion (Julius Boros at 48 in the 1968 PGA), then he will have trumped every other golf story in history. Period.

Take all your epics - Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open, Byron Nelson in 1945, Ben Hogan in 1953, Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters, Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters, 2000 U.S. Open, 2008 U.S. Open or the Tiger Slam - and chuck them in the also-ran bin. A Watson win Sunday would smoke them all, 4 and 3. A Watson win at 59 retires the category of Greatest Golf Achievement.

“The first day here, it was like, ‘Let the old geezer have his day in the sun, you know, 65,’ ” Watson said. “The second day you said, ‘Well, that’s OK.’ Now today you kind of perk up your ears and say, ‘This old geezer might have a chance to win this tournament.’ It’s kind of like Greg Norman last year.”

Actually, it’s not.

Norman gave us one heck of a sentimental ride at Birkdale last year when he took a two-stroke lead into the finale at 53. But we had all been on that roller coaster before. The golf establishment knew that final plunge was coming. The Shark always sinks on Slam Sundays. The only variable is the final tally of carnage - 77, as it turned out, six strokes behind Padraig Harrington.

To paraphrase Colin Montgomerie at the 1997 Masters, Watson isn’t Norman, and Harrington isn’t lying second.

Watson hasn’t won eight majors, eight combined British and Senior British Opens and 39 PGA Tour titles by tumbling at the tape. Saturday’s third-round 71 in a testing wind when the R&A; decided to stick all the flags in bunkers was further evidence that links golf isn’t familiar with age discrimination.

While the rest of the field, many of whom weren’t even born when Watson won his first Open at Carnoustie in 1975, floundered around him, golf’s ageless wonder took sole possession of the overnight lead for the first time. Perhaps most troubling for those attempting to thwart Watson and history, the old warrior enjoyed perhaps his best day at Turnberry with the putter.

Watson’s career Achilles’ heel has always been an occasionally balky blade. Not this week. Once again Saturday, Watson poured in a couple of birdie bombs, and he added a handful of crucial midrange par saves. If he stays steady on the greens, Watson will be a whale to reel in during the finale.

“Every now and then it works, you know,” Watson joked about his putter. “Boy, is it working at the right time now.”

That leaves nerves - the other primary enemy of the aging golfer - as Watson’s most logical Sunday hurdle.

But who is going to make him nervous? Certainly not playing partner Goggin, who hasn’t won a PGA Tour event - much less a major. Fisher and Lee Westwood (208) are battling an icon and a decade of English futility in majors. Retief Goosen (208), who was last seen posting a final-round 81 from the front at the 2005 U.S. Open? Stewart Cink (209), a player best known for missing a putt inside the leather on the 72nd hole at the 2001 U.S. Open? That’s enough tomato cans to stock a food bank.

Nope, if Watson were wary of anyone on the board beneath him, it probably would be seasoned major veteran and 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk (209). But not even a lurking Furyk seems to be troubling a “serene” Watson.

“I feel like my nerves are too well fried to feel them,” Watson said. “I mean, come on. Let’s just kind of go with what I’ve got. I’m not thinking about that.”

He is thinking a bit about his old rival, Jack Nicklaus, whom he bested at Turnberry in 1977’s famed Duel in the Sun. He’s probably thinking it would be real fun to strike a blow for his generation, a group that has been somewhat sublimated in the Tiger era.

Golf fans always have wanted to know how Tiger would fare against the Golden Bear and the rivals of his prime. Well, Turnberry has given us a taste thanks to the Open’s renaissance man. You can connect the dots on what most thought was an open-and-shut argument.

“I know my friend is watching,” Watson said. “And it would be something special if I did what I intend to do tomorrow.”

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