Early players put up some low numbers at British Open; Watson prepares for historic round

By Paul Newberry, AP
Sunday, July 19, 2009

Early players put up low numbers at British Open

TURNBERRY, Scotland — While Tom Watson waited to take his shot at history, several players put up low numbers early in the final round of the British Open.

Even though the wind continued to blow hard off the Irish Sea, three players in the first four groups posted below-par rounds at Turnberry. Paul Lawrie shot a 2-under 68, while Ryuji Imada and Darren Clarke both signed for 69.

Only five players broke par in the third round.

It was just a warmup for the main event: Watson’s attempt to become golf’s oldest major champion. The 59-year-old, five-time Open winner led England’s Ross Fisher and Australia’s Mathew Goggin by a stroke after 54 holes. Lee Westwood and Retief Goosen were two shots behind, with Jim Furyk and Stewart Cink another stroke back.

About two hours before his scheduled tee time with Goggin in the final group, Watson walked to the course holding hands with his wife, Hilary. He was staying across the street at Turnberry’s luxury resort — in the “Tom Watson Suite,” no less.

If Watson held on, he would be the golf’s oldest major winner by more than a decade. Julius Boros was 48 when he captured the PGA Championship in 1968.

Watson could also ensure that he gets to keep playing the Open for another decade. Past champions are generally allowed to play only until they’re 60 — a rule that Watson adamantly opposes.

But there’s an overriding provision that grants playing rights to anyone who’s won over the previous decade, so Watson could hang around until he’s 69 if he gets his name on the claret jug for a sixth time.

Also, Watson was trying to tie the Harry Vardon’s record for most Open titles.

There were plenty of guys in position to stop Watson’s inspiring run. At the start of play, a dozen players were within five strokes of the lead.

But Watson was clearly the star of the show.

Even cyclist Lance Armstrong, who came out off retirement to pursue his eighth Tour de France title, was keeping an eye on Turnberry.

“How about Tom Watson?” Armstrong wrote on Twitter. “Incredible.”

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