Friday, July 17, 2009
Watson's late push gains share of lead
TURNBERRY, Scotland -- Tom Watson had another magical day at the British Open.
The 59-year-old Watson bounced back from a dismal start, rolling in two impossibly long putts to share the midway lead with little-known American Steve Marino. Watson played the final 10 holes at 4 under for an even-par 70 that might have been even more impressive in the windy conditions than his opening 65.
Marino shot 68 at treacherous Turnberry, and the two will start Saturday in the final group at 5-under 135. Another old-timer, 49-year-old Mark Calcavecchia, will be right with them, one stroke back.
"It's as if the spirits are on my side," said Watson, who rolled in a 75-foot birdie at the 16th and a 45-footer at the final hole to pull even with Marino. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could win.
"I hope the spirits stay on my side."
Tiger Woods was not nearly as unfortunate. The world's top-ranked player limped off with a 4-over 74 and missed the cut (by one stroke) in a major for only the second time in his professional career.
Watson also had his troubles -- at the beginning. He followed a bogey-free Thursday with bogeys on five of the first seven holes -- including four in a row. Just when it seemed he was fading away, the five-time Open champion bounced back with two birdies around the turn.
British Open Live Blog
Jason Sobel, our live golf blogger extraordinaire, opines on all things British Open from Turnberry, Scotland. Read it here.
• Jason Sobel's Live Blog
He closed with a real flourish. The long putt at No. 16 plopped right in the center of the cup, prompting Watson to pump both fists. The one from the edge of the 18th green dropped, too, and Watson kicked his right leg with glee, hardly looking like a guy who would be the oldest major champion in golf history by more than a decade if he can hold it together two more rounds.
Julius Boros was 48 when he set the record at the 1968 PGA Championship.
Calcavecchia, with his wife on the bag, got off to a 67-69 start. He won his lone major 20 years ago at Troon, right up the road from Turnberry.
"I'm real happy with the way things have gone," he said. "I'm getting some good bounces, and I'm getting lucky on occasion, which always helps."
With props to his father for sending along his passport, Marino looked right at home in his first Open appearance.
"I didn't have a passport," said Marino, who got in as an alternate. "I had to fly my dad down to Florida so he could get my passport and FedEx it to me. ... I wasn't even expecting to play in this tournament."
His father dashed down to the sunshine state from his home in Virginia, sent along the passport to his son playing in the John Deere Classic and flew back -- all in the same day. When Shingo Katayama withdrew from the Open last weekend because of an injury, Marino received the spot.
Though he had never played on a true links course, Marino felt his game was suited to a style of golf that requires imagination and low ball flight.
"I would consider myself a feel player," he said. "I kind of see shots before I hit them. I don't really hit the same shot every time. Over here, you kind of have to be that way a little bit and hit some low shots and some high shots and bounce them in there and use the slopes. I've really been enjoying the golf over here, for sure."
For most, this was a day for surviving.
First-round leader Miguel Angel Jimenez struggled to a 73 but wasn't too upset about it. The ponytailed, cigar-smoking Spaniard got off to a grisly start -- a 4-over 39 on the front -- but held it together and joined the pack at 137.
"I'm pleased the way I finished, not very pleased with the way I started," Jimenez said. "You need to put it on the fairways, and I started missing the fairways for a little bit."
Japan's Kenichi Kuboya had the lead for a while, but lost it -- along with his ball -- when an errant tee shot at No. 13 led to double bogey. A 72 kept him in contention among that crowded group at 137, which included England's Ross Fisher (68) and South Africa's Retief Goosen (70).
John Daly, who won at St. Andrews in 1995, made it to an Open weekend for the first time in four years when a 72 left him at 140.
"It was brutal out there," moaned Daly, who might have said the same about his psychedelic green pants. "The pin placements were extremely tough. The way the wind was blowing, it was impossible to get at them.
"The course -- whether it is calm or blowing -- your are always 5 feet or 5 inches from a disaster."
Just ask Ben Curtis, the 2003 Open champion, who was unlikely to miss the cut after an opening 65 had him challenging for the lead. Curtis soared to an 80 in the second round.
"I just hit it bad," he said. "I got lucky yesterday with the weather. That helped me keep it in play. Today was different."