Saturday, 18 July 2009
Same old, same old at the Open this year. A lad with the initials TW takes the lead over the first two days and has the crowds in raptures doing it. Except it's not the noughties TW whipping up a storm at Turnberry, it's the seventies version showing the whippersnappers how it's done. Tiger is, for only the second time in a major, not around for the weekends play, as a 59 year old Watson revisits the scene of his finest triumph and is finding that the body has retained the muscle memory of how to play Ailsa Craig. It was always going to be hard to top last years hurrah by Greg Norman, bouyed by the spring of his step placed there by stepping out with Chris Evert, Watsons done it and in some style.
The round of day one was immaculate. Not a blemish on the card as he gave a virtuoso display of course management. Birdies at 1 and 3 induced a reaction of the "oh, isn't that nice to see." kind, reserved for the elder statesmen of the game but it was an indication that the old lithe swing of yesteryear was still intact and the eyes can still read a putt or two. Two more birdies came quick after the turn and suddenly heads were turning. Some massive putts were required to hold things together on the closing holes, but where the older players usually fall away, the fearsome competitor Watson proved up the the task, holing monsters for par and one for birdie to take the clubhouse lead. 500-1 that was before play started. The finest round of his career? Quite possibly (though that one in 1977 wasn't shabby either).
He'd have been up there on his own but for one of the most sensational finishes to a round you could ask for from the unheralded Kenichi Kuboya. 2, 3, 3, 3 on the final four - three birdies and an eagle on 17 - hauled the Japanese player to the top of the pack. Yesterday, Watson was off to a flier on 1 again, another birdie in his pocket there, but then the oft predicted collapse associated with guys rolling back the years seemed to kick in. Five bogeys in the next six took him tumbling down the leaderboard, which brought the usual condescending commentary again, too much to expect from a man of his advanced years.
Stuff that. Watson was not down, he was just getting warmed up (takes a bit longer when you're 59). Birdie on 9 stemmed the flow and the old knowing grin was back and he hit the back nine with all the nous he's accumulated, taking birdie on 11, 16 and a crowd pleasing one on 18 too. The putter is working beautifully for him and the swing is still holding up. I wouldn't bet against him holding on a bit more on this evidence. He's still up there and I think he means to stick around.
As for Tiger, the swing just couldn't hold up in the worsening conditions. He doesn't seem sure whats going to occur. Grimaces not of pain but of worry where his ball is going to finish constantly adorn his face. It's a pity he's not still around for the weekend but fighting himself like that it would not have been pretty anyway.
Flying the yankee flag along with Watson in the final paring today is Stev Marino. Second alternat this time last week, late withdrawls including Phil Mickelson saw a dash from his dad to post his passport to him in time to make the flight over to Blighty. Worth the effort I'd say. He's never played a Links course before, has no idea how hard it is and for now that ignorance is bliss. To be fair, it's taken him two days to learn what most Americans struggle to do in their whole career, the ball needs to go low, and some bumping, running, chasing little beauties from him shot him up top.
Ian Poulter meanwhile, could do with being a bit less excited by his twittering and being a bit more focused on the job at hand - 15 over? I know men of damn near 60 can get it round in 20 less shots.