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Watson Stars in Open Drama

Former champion, 53, with longtime caddie suffering from ALS, grabs a share of the lead with Quigley and is helped when putt falls.

June 13, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- The 103rd United States Open at Olympia Fields began Thursday with very little buzz, forgiving conditions, jokes about this being the HP Classic of New Orleans on steroids and a no-name leaderboard.

The first-round of the 103rd U.S. Open ended Thursday with 53-year-old Tom Watson sharing the first-round lead and then tears with his caddie, Bruce Edwards, who is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease).

You talk about a dramatic turn.

"You can only imagine," Watson said of his emotions. "Put yourself in Bruce's situation and my situation, what it means to do well at this late stage in your life playing in the tournaments you want to win the most."

Just when you thought it was safe to make fun of a bunch of leaders you thought might be heading up a law firm -- Quigley, Blake, Leaney and Gillis -- Watson raced a setting sun and his career clock on the back nine after all but three groups had completed play.

Watson's five-under-par 65 earned him a share of the first-round lead with Brett Quigley.

"Wonders never cease," said Watson, who holed a six-iron for an eagle on No. 12, his third hole of the day.

The afternoon started to get downright spooky on the par-three seventh when Watson's birdie attempt lay suspended on the cup's edge for a full six seconds before a golf god blew it into the hole. Watson leaped in the air as the crowd roared.

"I have a vertical leap of about 8 1/2 inches," Watson joked.

Someone had turned back the clock to 1982, the year Watson won his only U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Watson followed his blow-in with a long birdie putt on the par-four eighth to go five under, and made an eight-foot par save on No. 9 to complete his improbable day.

Watson and Quigley hold a one-shot lead over Justin Leonard and Jay Don Blake, who finished at 66, while Stephen Leaney and Jim Furyk are two back after shooting first-round 67s.

Tiger Woods, believe it or not, played one of the most anonymous rounds of the day, shooting even-par 70, five shots off the lead.

Watson and Quigley?

Watson joked that it sounded like the leaderboard of the U.S. Senior Open given that Dana Quigley, Brett's uncle, is a card-carrying member of the Champions Tour, the one Watson plays most weeks.

You couldn't conceive more improbable co-leaders than Watson and Brett Quigley.

Watson has won eight major titles -- five British Opens, two Masters and one U.S. Open -- and 39 total tour victories in his illustrious career.

Quigley, 33, has no PGA Tour wins. He had been to qualifying school five times before finally earning his tour card last year.

For what it's worth, Quigley had missed the cut in his two other U.S. Open appearances, in 2000 and 2001, and missed five consecutive cuts at one point this year on the PGA Tour.

And then he pulls this?

Quigley calls himself a chronic underachiever with an erratic swing, hardly the kind of game conducive to competing on normally penal U.S. Open courses.

Quigley's nickname might as well be "Wild Swing."

He hit only eight fairways and had seven birdies against two bogeys Thursday.

"My game is I don't hit it very straight, but I can move it out there pretty good," Quigley said.

Quigley is being advised this week by his father, Paul, his caddie, and rooted on by his Uncle Dana.

Quigley said he gained confidence this week watching highlights of old major tournaments on the Golf Channel. You can bet Watson was in a lot of that footage.

"You realize that leaders hit bad shots," Quigley said. "I don't have to be perfect. I think that's been my big hang-up."

Watson knows, at 53, his magic moment might be limited to one day.

But, for one day, that doesn't matter.

"If I shoot 90 tomorrow, I don't care," he said.

Thursday for Watson was like watching "This is Your Life."

While most players are unfamiliar with Olympia Fields, Watson played his first professional tournament here, the Western Open, in 1968.

"I relied a lot on past memories," he said of his first-round success.

As Watson and his caddie put the finishing touches on a memorable round, the moment got the best of them. Edwards has caddied for Watson since 1973.

"I didn't start to get emotional until he did," Watson said of Edwards. "The last few holes, there were quite a few tears there, for both of us."

Edwards was diagnosed with ALS on Jan. 15 at age 48.

"It's an insidious disease," Watson said.

Watson used his "bully pulpit" Thursday to make a plea for a disease he says afflicts 30,000 people in the United States. Watson said drug companies can't afford to find a cure because not enough people suffer from ALS. There's no money in it.

Watson had no problem using his opening 65 to make a plea for his dying friend. Watson can only hope to get another chance today, when he tees off in the morning.

How could you not get caught up with the symmetry -- from Olympia Fields 35 years ago to now.

"It's run full circle," Watson said. "From my first pro golf tournament, in 1968, to maybe my last professional Open, in 2003. I don't know."

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