Golf: Floyd relives former glory on his quest: Guy Hodgson reports from the Open at on an American's race against

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The Independent Online
THE WIND raced off the Firth of Forth yesterday, whistling between the television towers and the stands here. But it was the clock ticking on his career that Raymond Floyd was hearing. At 49, he knows the next two days will probably represent his last chance of winning one of golf's great prizes.

It is the Open Championship that the American craves more than any other prize: victory here would offer Floyd immortality of sorts as only the fifth man to have won all four majors. The prospect of adding the name Floyd to Nicklaus, Hogan, Sarazen and Player is a tantalising one. To be on 135, within touch of the lead at the halfway stage, makes it more so.

'I'm playing the best golf of my life, which at 49 doesn't make any sense,' Floyd, who has won two US PGA Championships, a Masters and a US Open over three decades, said. 'I try not to think in these terms but I realise that this can't go on for ever. One day I'll start going the other way. It's a matter of nature.

'I'm not out of this championship. I've played two solid rounds and given myself a chance. The position I'm in hasn't sunk in yet but when it does I'll be excited. I'll wake up in the morning with a little edge, a sense of nervousness.'

Solid was just about the best description of Floyd yesterday. He began and ended his round seven under and in between flattered to deceive with all the accomplishment of a vamp. He found 15 greens in regulation but then let birdie chances fly away with relentless regularity.

At the third hole he was 15 feet away and missed; at the fourth the same distance and the same result. The sight of a ball slipping past the hole was the recurrent theme, further chances going begging at the sixth, eighth, ninth, 11th and 12th. On Thursday, when he made eight birdies, his ball had been drawn to the cup like a magnet; yesterday he could have been putting with his eyes closed such were his hopeless gropings to find the hole.

'I always have problems putting when its windy,' he said. 'I'm tall (6ft 1in) and I have a long club, 38 inches, and when it blows I find it difficult to keep my body still. I have to widen my stance and lower myself and that's not my style. I have a smaller, heavier club which I normally use when the wind gets up but I'd putted so well in the first round I didn't want to change.' It can be assured he will make the switch today if the slightest breeze ripples the Muirfield flags.

Floyd's flirtations with danger were few but spectacular. At the par-five fifth he found a fairway bunker on the right and, attempting to get extra yardage, left his attempted chip in the sand. Most players would have happily settled for bogey at that point but he left the trap and then hit a sublime five-iron 221 yards to a foot from the pin. A par after that was not a escape as much as a miracle.

At the 10th he also found a bunker and this time dropped a shot and the round was in danger of slipping away when he hit a woefully short approach at the 15th. A chip to 10 feet did not inspire confidence given Floyd's putting form but he rolled the ball in as if he had been doing it all day. It was his longest successful putt by a multiplication of about five times and to emphasise the fact he pointed the shot in as if he was stabbing the ball home.

That lifted him mentally although he later denied there had been a possibility the day could have disintegrated into frustration. 'This is the Open, you can't let things get to you,' and to emphasise the point he birdied the penultimate hole after chipping to four feet.

After his second place in the Masters and a strong showing for three rounds in the US Open last month this is threatening to be a momentous season for Floyd. 'It's my best year since 1976,' he said. 'But I was young then, very young.' Six weeks short of his 50th birthday, the ageing process is a long time coming.

TOM WATSON, who missed only his second cut at Muirfield, departed with a knock-out blow after his pushed approach to the last green hit a 15-year-old spectator full on the head. The boy, briefly unconscious, was taken to hospital, but was released last night.

(Photograph omitted)

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