Golf / 123rd Open: Confident Watson slips sweetly back into the groove: Vintage display from the old master on a low-scoring day while Brooks goes close to the course record and Woosnam falls apart

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The Independent Online
ALL those crofters who insulated their homes all those years ago on the strength of Tom Watson winning the Open Championship are rubbing their hands together again in anticipation. Watson is back at Turnberry, back in the groove and heavily backed. 'Not bad for a 44- year-old has-been,' he said after compiling a 65, vintage 1977.

Watson, after an opening 68, has progressed from two under to seven under and, at the half-way stage of the 123rd Open yesterday, leads by one from Brad Faxon and Jesper Parnevik and by two from Nick Price.

'Whenever I play in the Open I blow hot or cold,' Watson said, leaving nobody in doubt that this week he was hot. His comment was particularly apposite as he was playing with Curry and Frost.

Apart from age, and the fact that he was wearing extraordinarily garish trousers that looked as though they had walked from Carnaby Street, the difference between the Watson who won over the Ailsa course 17 years ago and the Watson who confidently believes he can win here tomorrow is that then he did not like links golf. Now he loves it. Then his scoring after two rounds was not half as good. He was two under par and he ultimately saw off Jack Nicklaus with a couple of 65s.

While the Golden Bear, Watson's sparring partner in practice here, was packing his bags, Watson got his 65 in a day early. Familiarity with links golf does not breed contempt with him, just immense respect and the feeling from British spectators is mutual. When Watson came down the 18th the response from the crowd was wonderful. Watson was 'warmed' by the reaction of the crowd.

When he had a birdie at the eighth his confidence was so high he remarked: 'I bet the bookies are quivering now.' This was the result of hitting what he described as his favourite shot of the day. His drive ended in a downhill lie and he had to deliberately put a slice on a three-iron to attack the hole. His ball landed eight feet from the flag and he made the putt. Watson, a football fan, had already said: 'Put your money on Brazil and me.'

Earlier in the day Mark Brooks had shown what was possible by returning a 64, a stroke outside the Open Championship record set by, among others, Greg Norman here in 1986. That was also in the second round. Brooks, from Fort Worth in Texas, is playing in his third Open and he doesn't think too highly of compatriots who stay at home. 'I consider it an obligation to give it a shot over here,' he said. 'You need to pack your bags and try. We have some players who do not understand the golf here. A guy comes over and plays two practice rounds. He goes round in a couple of 73s and he goes home. Then he wonders if he should have spent dollars 10,000 having a try.'

Brooks, who went from four over to two under, could just as easily have been talking about Ian Woosnam. Woosnam, world No 1 in 1991, finished at 12 over par. 'I just wanted to get off the course,' he said. 'I've got no feel and it's been like that for a long time.' He rang for his private aeroplane to take him away, back to the tax-free security of Jersey. He had done the same thing in the US Open. It is just as well he has no problems with the Inland Revenue. His game is taxing him to the limit.

It is debatable as to whether Watson is more popular with the galleries than Nick Faldo. Following his 75 in the first round when he had an eight at the 17th, the three times Open champion responded with a 66 and he is not out of it. 'It was a disastrous first day,' Faldo said, 'but I had to forget it. I had to carry on as if nothing had happened. Yes, I think I can win. I'll keep battling away.' That is what earned Faldo a reception on the 18th green that was almost comparable in the decibel count to that received by Watson.

'Yes, I can win,' David Feherty said. 'I've got nothing better to do.' Feherty, who shot 69, is one of two Irishmen, Ronan Rafferty is the other, at three under par for the championship. If Feherty can find a fairway he would figure even more prominently on the leaderboard. It is his putting that has put him where he is, that and the support of Irishmen who have crossed the water. 'There are so many people from home it was like playing in the Ulster Championship,' Feherty said. Then he did his Ian Paisley accent. 'I haven't even sniffed the fairway,' he said. 'I've no clue with the driver.'

It was the driver that unhinged John Daly at the 10th, where he took a triple bogey seven. Killer Whale on beach drama. He followed that with a double bogey five, taking four putts, missing one of them with a single-handed waft. He went out in 32 - he was five under par for the championship - and came back in 40.

Warren Bennett, 22, from Ruislip, is guaranteed the silver medal as leading amateur on the grounds that he is the only one left. Yesterday Bennett, who began the championship with a double bogey six on the first hole, shot 67 and at one under par is on course to establish an Open record for an amateur. If Watson keeps his nerve he, too, will secure his place in history, alongside Harry Vardon. 'It's more difficult away from home,' Watson said. The thing is, he appears to be perfectly at home.

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