Turnabout at Turnberry: Watson leads, Woods leaves

July 18, 2009

 
TURNBERRY, Scotland  Tom Watson danced what he called "a Scottish jig" on the 18th green after another long putt fell into the cup. Play on.

About an hour later, Tiger Woods tapped in for a par that didn't mean a thing. Time to call it a day.

Talk about role reversal.

Watson, the 59-year-old former British Open champion, was supposed to be going through the motions, taking his penultimate curtain call at a tournament that holds such a special place in his career. Instead, he heads to the weekend with a share of the lead, having put together two magical rounds and needing two more to get his hands on the claret jug for a record-tying sixth time.

Woods, the world's best player and right in his prime, was supposed to be homing in on a 15th major championship, another step closer to Jack Nicklaus' record 18. Instead, Woods missed the cut, hopped his private jet to Florida, and gave his personal chef a few unexpected days off.

These were two Turnberry shockers.

"It's as if the spirits are on my side," said Watson, who made history Friday afternoon as the oldest player to lead a major championship, tying Open rookie Steve Marino with a 5-under 135.

Woods must have felt like everything was stacked against him, because he's sure not used to failing. This was only the second time in 49 major championships as a pro that he failed to make it to the weekend.

"Kept making mistake after mistake," Woods said.

Now comes a weekend alive with possibilities, just none of them involving Woods.

Watson will take aim at Harry Vardon and his six British Open titles. One shot behind was 49-year-old Mark Calcavecchia, who won the Open 20 years ago up the coast at Royal Troon. He, too, survived the stretch of holes along the Firth of Clyde in a stiff wind that demanded so much of every shot. Calcavecchia made a 40-foot birdie putt on the 10th that carried him to a 69.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen twice saved par from 35 feet and had a 70, putting him in the group at 3-under 137 that included three-time major champion Vijay Singh. Thirteen players were within three shots of the lead, while Sergio Garcia (139) and John Daly (140) were both in striking distance.

"I guess the memories are with me, all the wonderful memories I've had playing links golf," Watson said. "Walking down the fairways, walking up onto the greens, people showing their respect for me, showing my respect for them. And it's been since 1975 34 years I've played links golf. And it's a fabric of my life, I can tell you that."

Woods failed to make the cut for only the sixth time in his career, and the first since the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, his first tournament after his father died.

"Everybody's entitled to a bad day," said Lee Westwood, who played with Woods and shot 70 to join the group at 138. "It was tough conditions out there, and the wind can play havoc with your swing sometimes. And he hit a couple of poor shots at the wrong time."

Watson finished with a pair of birdie putts that were nearly as long as his odds of winning another claret jug. There was a 75-footer footer from the back on the 16th green, then a 45-footer at No. 18 to cap an even-par 70 that might have been more impressive than his bogey-free 65 on Thursday. This time, he had to bounce back after making five bogeys in six holes, four of them in a row.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could win," Watson said.

Woods always thinks he can win, but his performance on the back nine was abysmal.

He hit one tee shot that was never found in the high grass along the dunes right of the 10th fairway. He hit into a fairway bunker for the first time all week. It took him two shots to get up a bank and onto the green at the 13th.

Woods dropped seven shots during a wretched six-hole stretch, and not even two late birdies could spare him the indignation of missing the cut. Needing to chip in for birdie on the 18th hole, he came up a few feet short and tapped in for a 74 and 145 total, one shot off the cut.

"I kept compounding my problems out there," Woods said.

Watson was tied for the lead with Marino, a 29-year-old American who didn't know until last weekend that he had gotten into the British Open as an alternate, and then had to fly his father from Virginia to his home in Florida to fetch Marino's passport.

"I wasn't even expecting to play in this tournament," Marino said.

One year after Greg Norman made a stunning bid to win the British Open at 53, the prospects of Watson winning at 59 are staggering. The oldest major champion was Julius Boros, who was 48 when he captured the 1968 PGA Championship.

Watson won his first of his five British Opens at Carnoustie in 1975, five months before Woods was born.

Now Watson is trying to win another and he doesn't have to worry about Woods getting in the way.

 

Associated Press