Golf: Injury forces Watson's withdrawal

COUNTDOWN TO THE OPEN: No 22nd appearance for five-times winner while Ballesteros looks to his younger self for inspiration
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One of the most celebrated marriages in the land was terminated yesterday. Tom Watson, a five-times winner of the Open and a visitor to the tournament for the last 21 years, withdrew from the 125th version, which begins on Thursday, with a shoulder injury.

Watson, who despite his 46 years won the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village this year and was quietly fancied to add to his eight majors at Royal Lytham, flew in to Scotland for practice with a slightly damaged rotator cuff. When the injury worsened, he was forced to pull out and he returned to the United States yesterday for treatment.

No American golfer has returned to his homeland with an Open trophy collected at Royal Lytham since Bobby Jones in 1926. In the interim, there have been seven Opens on this section of the Lancashire coast and latterly the links have been the domain of Seve Ballesteros. As a 22-year-old, the Spaniard introduced his genius with victory here in 1979, when he earned the sobriquet of the car-park champion. He also succeeded nine years later.

Ballesteros's game is compromised by chronic back problems these days. In an effort to recreate the style of days past, Seve has been studying a tuition video of perhaps the most natural swing the sport has ever seen. He has been watching himself. "When I watch the film of the Open wins, I see if I can pick up any details I'm not doing now to see if I can inspire myself," he said yesterday. "I'm proud to see what I did before."

When Seve was previously at Royal Lytham, his greatest problem was scything recovery shots out of parking areas. Now he worries about someone else with a scythe. "I'm sad that I can't be youthful for ever but nobody can do that. Everyone is going to die, that is the only truth in life so you can't do anything about it," he said. "You just have to take it. When you watch the films it gives you confidence to go and try to win again. I know it's difficult, I know it's eight years later and my game at the moment is not as good as before, but it is possible.

"The scoring I've had in the last few tournaments in Europe does not show the way I have been playing. I feel that I waste two or three shots in every round that I shouldn't. My game is not 100 per cent, but it's not as bad as some people may think."

The 1988 Open here was the last of Ballesteros's five majors and while he considers another is within reach, it is not a view held by others. Coral make him a 100-1 chance to win the tournament and as big as 6-4 merely to survive the half-way cut.

With a rash of low scores in the qualifiers and yesterday's clear, sunny weather predicted to hold for the rest of the week, some are anticipating the course will be humiliated. Seve does not. He sees problems around the greens. "I think I won here twice because of my short game," he said. "The greens are small and everyone is going to miss a lot of greens. With the crosswinds, chipping is always going to be important."

Greg Norman envisages difficulties elsewhere. "I think this is a great driver's course," he said. "Like any links course, you have to hit the fairway, and downwind you'd better be able to thread it through the eye of a needle."

Norman remains the world No 1 in the Sony rankings, even though his form has dipped after a promising start to the season. "The last six or eight weeks have not been very stellar at all," he said. "It has been a Jekyll and Hyde season for me."

Too often in majors, Norman's knuckles have become hairy in the closing stages, but, at 41, the desire to improve on his underachievement of just two majors remains. "I will get some juice by Wednesday and in the afternoon there will be a tingling in the belly and I'll know I am ready to go," he said.

Before then, the Australian will familiarise himself with a course he has not played competitively since 1979. "Seventeen is one of the best holes out there, a beautiful hole," he said. "John Daly said there are more bunkers down there than he has had ex-wives. And he missed them all." Not, however, as much as the tournament will miss Tom Watson.