TURNBERRY, Scotland | Tom Watson is just 18 holes from history.
The 59-year-old continued his time-warping run at Turnberry on Saturday, emerging from a blustery third round with a one-stroke lead over undecorated extras Mathew Goggin and Ross Fisher heading into the finale at the 138th British Open.
“For some reason today I just didn’t feel real nervous out there,” said Watson, who’s 11 years older than Julius Boros was when he became the oldest golfer to win a major at the 1968 PGA Championship. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know one thing: I feel good about what I did today. I feel good about my game plan. And who knows, it might happen.”
Watson began the day tied atop the leader board with Fairfax native Steve Marino at 5 under. But the combination of a 15 to 20 mph crosswind off the Firth of Clyde and the Royal & Ancient’s extreme pin positions yielded a full-field slide on the 7,204-yard, par-70 links.
Conventional wisdom has always held that as conditions get tougher, experience becomes more valuable. That notion held true Saturday as Watson salvaged a spotty ball-striking round in which he hit only 10 greens with a combination of patience and clutch putting. The five-time British Open champion recorded four up-and-down par saves from long range (Nos. 3, 5, 13 and 14) and closed with consecutive birdies at Nos. 16 and 17 to nose past Goggin and Fisher down the stretch and get to 4-under 206 .
“Today I made some good putts,” said Watson, who also conquered the Ailsa Course at the 1977 Open and 2003 Senior Open. “I made some great pars today, which is what you have to do on a windy day at Turnberry.”
While Watson’s Saturday 71 paled in comparison with Thursday’s 65, he posted it on a day when Turnberry yielded only five subpar scores, just one among the final 19 pairings.
Among those 38 players in contention, the average score was 73.11, and only Goggin (69) bettered par. The 35-year-old Australian, who has no PGA Tour victories, will have the task of attempting to stare down Watson - the most popular man in Scotland at the moment - in Sunday’s final pairing.
“I joked with [Watson] and said, ‘You could probably be the king of Scotland,’ ” said Marino, who tumbled down the board thanks to a round that included two double bogeys (Nos. 5 and 16) and a triple (15). “It was just awesome watching him do his thing. You know, there’s a reason why he’s won five claret jugs.”
A 28-year-old carrying the dual weights of national hope and imminent fatherhood (his wife is on bed rest), Fisher’s major resume trumps Goggin’s by a narrow margin. But a dangerous pack of experienced major jackals are bunched up just behind that pair, including Retief Goosen (208), Lee Westwood (208), Jim Furyk (209) and Stewart Cink (209).