July 17, 2009 in Sports

Watson’s round for the aged

At 59, golfer second where he won at 27
Chuck Culpepper Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

Tom Watson gestures after finishing his round of 5-under-par 65 that has him in second place at the British Open.
(Full-size photo)

TURNBERRY, Scotland – In a stunning development at the British Open, a 59-year-old man revealed that he actually read a text message and then successfully completed a reply.

This improbable scenario helped illustrate the awesome span of the career of Tom Watson, who shot a glowing 65 at Turnberry while dredging mysticism from floating dirt in the prehistoric era of 1977, and shot a glowing 65 at Turnberry while gaining “serenity” from a sitting message on a sleek gadget in the digital era of 2009.

“Don’t ask me to twit or tweet; I don’t tweet,” Watson protested, but even those elusive skills may be within his potential considering his perfectly apt fielding of a text from a certain Barbara Nicklaus of North Palm Beach, Fla.

Fifty-nine, after all, could be the new 29 after an enchanting Thursday by the Firth of Clyde in which Watson led all day until the crafty pup of 45, Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, just pipped him with a 50-foot birdie at sundown on No. 18 for a six-under-par 64. “He’s a legend here with us,” Jimenez said.

For 32 years, Watson has spoken of the wafting dust kicked up by galleries during the famed “Duel in the Sun” of 1977 against Jack Nicklaus, and how it lent a storybook quality when viewing it down the fairway.

Suddenly on Thursday, some 32 years after Nicklaus shot 68-70-65-66 but Watson shot 68-70-65-65, Watson spoke of the poignancy of the text from his rival’s wife of 49 years. It complimented Watson’s caddie. It wished Watson good luck. It summoned Watson’s thumb skills.

“I texted her back,” he said, “and I said, ‘You know, we really miss you over here.’ And I really meant it. It’s not the same without Jack playing in the tournament. And today, I think there was some spirituality out there today, just the serenity of it was pretty neat.”

He solved Turnberry at age 27 for the second of his five British Open titles. He mostly deciphered it at 44 when he led after two rounds but missed a five-foot putt on Sunday in 1994 and plunged to 11th in his biggest disappointment. He cracked Turnberry at age 53 with a 64 in the final round of the Senior Open.

And he has outfoxed Turnberry at 59 on a pristine day after starting off with his best feeling since, well, “Don’t ask memory questions, please. I don’t know. You’re really taxing me now.”

Jimenez also played bogey-free and finished strong. He lashed a 5-wood onto the green at the par-5 17th for a two-putt birdie from 65 feet, then rolled in a birdie putt on the 18th from just off the front of the green.

Ben Curtis, who like Watson won the British Open in his first try in 2003 at Royal St. George’s, had four birdies over his last six holes for a 65. They were joined by Kenichi Kuboya of Japan, who finished birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie from one of the final groups.

Steve Stricker led the group at 66.

“I think if Watson plays the way he played today, he can beat Tiger Woods and everyone else,” Stricker said. “He flushed it today.”

Woods was seven shots behind, his largest first-round deficit ever in the British Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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