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Tom Watson leads British Open

Watson holds a one-shot lead over Mathew Goggin and Ross Fisher. The 59-year-old becomes the second consecutive man over 50 to lead a British Open after three rounds, following Greg Norman last year.

July 19, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND — Golf had another of its inconceivable dreams Saturday.

In this one, the image of 53-year-old Greg Norman in 2008 walking up No. 18 at Royal Birkdale down the coast in England with a 54-hole lead in the British Open had not been sufficient, for clearly, Norman had been too bloody young.

No, this one starred a man with a phalanx of facial lines, a bunch of glowing 32-year-old memories and an age just seven weeks shy of 60, so it made sense that somebody asked Tom Watson if he needed to pinch himself.

"I don't need to," he said. "I'm awake. I know I'm awake."

The reminder did help, because a woozy enchantment just won't let go of the British Open.

It's on the leaderboard, where the name "T. Watson" somehow appears at four under par, one shot above Ross Fisher and Mathew Goggin, two shots above Lee Westwood, hinting that a man who has not won a major in 26 years could become the oldest major winner by 11 years over 1968 PGA Championship winner Julius Boros.

"The first day here, 'yeah, let the old geezer have his day in the sun, you know, 65,' " Watson said. "The second day you said, 'Well, that's OK, that's OK.' And then now today you kind of perk up your ears and say, 'This old geezer might have a chance to win the tournament.' It's kind of like Greg Norman last year. 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."

It's hovering around No. 18, the enchantment, because on Friday Watson holed a crazy 60-foot putt there and did a little one-kick dance, and on Saturday Watson hit his approach onto the green, walked down to roaring applause, then said to caddie Neil Oxman, "Bruce is with us today," meaning Watson's late caddie Bruce Edwards, who died of Lou Gehrig's disease in 2003.

"Don't make me cry," Oxman said.

"So he started crying and I started crying," Watson said.

It's even in that most menacing of instruments, the putter, which has tortured Watson for decades. Yet he has spent the week making bombs. He made those two 60-footers Friday on Nos. 16 and 18. He made four nearly absurd up-and-downs Saturday, including a save from a bunker on No. 3 and a rugged 18-footer on No. 14.

And then, just when his round seemed to teeter with a bogey on No. 15 and a plummet to two under par and out of the lead, he made a 40-footer on No. 16.

"It's not ironic," said the five-time British Open champion. "Every now and then it works, you know. It's just every now and then. And boy, is it working at the right time right now."

It's in the eyes of the galleries who applaud Watson's every approach toward them, and of the fellow players, who comprehend the kismet of a 59-year-old player mastering their hard art better than all the 155 other, younger players.

"He's obviously still got a huge amount of talent," Luke Donald said.

"I joked with him and I said, 'You could probably be the king of Scotland!' " third-round playing partner Steve Marino said.

"He said to me earlier this week, and I'm sure he's said it publicly too, that he wanted to win this championship so he can keep playing it," Justin Rose said, referring to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club's age limit of 60. "The greatest links player of all time deserves to play the Open Championship for as long as he wants in my opinion. If I don't win, I'll certainly be rooting for Tom Watson."

Mostly, though, the enchantment concerns Turnberry, where he has played six different championships, which he deems advantageous on a course so many had not played, and where his memories include his win over Jack Nicklaus in the famed "Duel in the Sun" at the 1977 British Open.

He greeted his three bogeys as "part of the game." He stuck to a plan he devised but would not reveal. He didn't even feel tension, saying, "For some reason today I just didn't feel nervous out there. I felt, I guess 'serene' again is the right word for it."

As in 2008 with Norman, who shot 77 and finished third, the whole thing hurtles toward today, imaginations radiating all around. And as if that weren't enough dreaminess, Norman said before this Open he had dined with Watson, and they had discussed how golf trumps tennis, the sport of Norman's wife Chris Evert, because people can play it well for longer.

Now a 59-year-old will go out and give that assertion its ultimate proof. He doesn't even expect any nervousness, because after four decades of professional golf and all its agonies and rewards, Watson said, "I feel like my nerves are too well fried to feel them."

chuck.culpepper@yahoo.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

British Open

Leaders after the third round of the British Open at the Ailsa course in Turnberry, Scotland (par 70). The final-round coverage begins today at 5 a.m. PDT on Channel 7.

Tee times are Pacific:

*--* Pos Player 1st 2nd 3rd Final Total Par 1 Tom Watson 65 70 71 6:20 a.m. 206 -4 T2 Mathew Goggin 66 72 69 6:20 a.m. 207 -3 T2 Ross Fisher 69 68 70 6:10 a.m. 207 -3 T4 Lee Westwood 68 70 70 6:10 a.m. 208 -2 T4 Retief Goosen 67 70 71 6 a.m. 208 -2 T6 Jim Furyk 67 72 70 6 a.m. 209 -1 T6 Stewart Cink 66 72 71 5:50 a.m. 209 -1 T8 Bryce Molder 70 73 67 5:50 a.m. 210 E T8 Thongchai Jaidee 69 72 69 5:40 a.m. 210 E T10 Richard S. Johnson 70 72 69 5:40 a.m. 211 +1 T10 Boo Weekley 67 72 72 5:30 a.m. 211 +1 T10 Angel Cabrera 69 70 72 5:30 a.m. 211 +1 T10 Steve Marino 67 68 76 5:20 a.m. 211 +1 *--*

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