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Tiger Woods is out, while Tom Watson is very much in it

GOLF

Woods misses the cut at the British Open, where 59-year-old shares the lead after two rounds.

July 18, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND — The adhesive memory banks of golf freaks surely will retain a stunning and stirring Friday by the Irish Sea, when two of the least-asked questions in the English language loomed over Turnberry and jockeyed for primacy.

The windy, brooding Friday of the 138th British Open was when the preposterous "Could Tiger Woods really miss the cut?" dovetailed with the fanciful "Could a 59-year-old man actually win this thing?"

That's when the overwhelming favorite and No. 1 player thrashed through a six-hole thud so profound he looked as if replaced in a zombie flick by some far more deeply flawed human, so that the first question found an even rarer answer.

Yes.

And that's when Tom Watson righted a foundering round and joined the hip-replacement hall of fame with four birdies in the last 10 holes, a 70-foot monster putt on No. 16 and a 60-footer from the fringe on No. 18 that loosed a proper roar, so the second question found a curious answer.

Who knows?

Downright bizarre would be Woods' serial horrors from Nos. 8 through 13 -- bogey, bogey, double bogey, par, bogey, double bogey -- that sent him spiraling beneath the cut for only the second time as a pro in a major tournament, for the first time anywhere since the 2006 U.S. Open and for only the sixth time in his career.

And rather unforgettable would be Watson's learned resolve some 32 years after his 1977 Open win at Turnberry, and the way it forged a round-trip of a round from delight to despair to delight, from six under par to one under and clear back to five under and a tie with the inconceivable American co-leader Steve Marino.

"The spirits are with me," Watson said.

As in all jolting memories, nothing foretold Woods' uncommon miseries when he finished playing No. 7, and nothing foretold Watson's rarefied joy when he finished playing No. 7 not so long before. The three-time champion looked foreboding. The five-time champion looked decrepit.

Woods had just reached a promising score of "E" by playing six immaculate pars followed by one expert birdie that coursed straight through the fairway and traded on a delectably short chip shot. "Right where I needed to be," he said. Watson had just reached a dreary score of one under by bogeying five of six holes, reaching No. 8 and getting a pat from playing partner Sergio Garcia, who encouraged, "Come on, old man!"

"I said, 'Well, I feel like an old man,' " Watson said, appreciating the gesture.

Well, just then on loony Friday, with a quick and lashing rainstorm been-and-gone, Woods began hitting drives waywardly right as the course reached the malevolent coastline. He visited bunkers on Nos. 8 and 12. He spent No. 9 entirely in unkind foliage on the right. He caused an impromptu search party of patrons diligently hunting his lost drive on No. 10 and failed despite finding two other balls in Mother Nature's tangled rough.

He made double bogey, made jaws plummet.

Then, in shocking epitome, he chipped from behind No. 13 and saw the ball climb to the green, stop briefly and retreat tauntingly downhill to Woods' right to arrange double bogey. "You don't often see him play shots like that, but everybody is entitled to a bad day now and then," playing partner Lee Westwood said.

Woods almost rallied with birdies at 16 and 17, but when finally Woods' approach to No. 18 rolled off the back of the green and all but guaranteed he'd miss the cut by one at five-over-par 145, his youthful face formed a frown.

"Kept making mistake after mistake," he said of the six holes he played in seven over par, leading to his four-over 74.

And if that frown weren't memorable enough for its rarity, not long earlier on that same No. 18, Watson's creased and wizened face had looked up and beamed and even performed a little one-kick dance he called "my Scottish jig," while spectators made big din for him. His last, hurrying putt had teetered into the right side of the cup, and he looked every bit as spry as his outstanding 16-year-old playing partner Matteo Manassero. Following on his serene 65 of Thursday, he had made a rigorous 70 born partly of his entrenched understanding that Turnberry's wind-bared teeth would wreak a grind.

A man seven weeks shy of 60 had weathered the grind, and he had wound up speaking of "spirituality" and saying, "I guess the memories are with me, all the wonderful memories I've had playing links golf. Walking down the fairways, walking up onto the greens, people showing their respect for me, showing my respect for them. And it's been since 1975, 34 years I've played links golf. And it's a fabric of my life."

And if that weren't enough, the British Open had a second straight year bathing in fine sentiment with an over-50 leader after two rounds, Greg Norman at 53 being the first. How rare was that Friday in 2009? Well, the co-leader of the British Open recalled rounds with Sam Snead and Byron Nelson and how well they could hit in dotage.

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