For more than six hours the dream was on, the clock was rewound and golf was again basking in its golden age. At the age of 59, Tom Watson was about to become the oldest man in history to lead after the first round of a major. And not any old major but an Open Championship at Turnberry of all things. Nostalgia floated in on the gentle breeze, bringing with it the memories of 1977 and that sunlit duel.
But then, through the haze of this most romantic of stories stepped Miguel Angel Jimenez, holing a 60-footer on the last to grab top spot. Whatever "party-pooper" is in Spanish was being whispered outside the popular Ryder Cup player's room in the big white hotel on the hill here last night. Full credit to Jimenez for his brilliant 64; but the game is quite sure Miguel will understand if the adulation is directed at someone else on the higher rungs of the leader board.
It was Watson who made the pulse race, the spine tingle and the imagination soar. Regardless of the resonance of his 65 – or, indeed, that the name of the then 54-year-old, Sam Snead, will remain in the record books for his feat at the 1966 USPGA – this was a remarkable performance. Not only is Watson the oldest man in the 156-strong field, by five years, but he underwent hip replacement surgery last October and at the Masters in April, his last major round, he struggled to an embarrassing 83. Furthermore he had not enjoyed a sub-70 round in the Open in 15 years.
To everyone else in Ayrshire he might have come into this 138th staging of the major he has won five times as nothing more than a living, breathing heirloom of the greatest Open. But to Watson he was, and still is, a competitor. Playing partner and fans alike understand that now. "If Watson plays the way he did today he can beat Tiger Woods and everyone else," said an utterly gobsmacked Sergio Garcia. "He flushed it today. Tom was inspired."
Inspired? Try resurrected. The last time he shot a 65 here was in the 1994 Open, although it was obviously the 65 of 32 years ago being evoked in the bars and clubs last night. It was certainly playing on loop in Watson's mind. "There was something slightly spiritual about today and the serenity of it was pretty neat," he said. On Wednesday he received a "good luck" text from Jack Nicklaus's wife Barbara and it was too tempting not to think of his great rival sitting there in his Ohio home screaming at the TV, "Go get 'em, Tom, just like you got me".
Watson was to get them all but the cigar-chomping Jimenez. True, Turnberry was, as Watson put it, "defenceless, with no discernible wind to speak of, but that cannot and will not devalue his achievement. He was bogeyless, flawless and in terms of his touch and creativity, peerless. In between shots he may have shuffled up the fairway like the old man he is; but stood over the ball, Watson was transformed into the glorious shot-maker he always was. "Playing the practice rounds I felt very good about the way I was hitting it," he said. "And because links golf is not played very much the older guys have an advantage. We kind of get a feel for it and that feel is worth its weight in gold."
On three under, the 52-year-old Mark O'Meara backed him up on that theory; as did the 49-year-old Mark Calcavecchia, who also shot a 67. Alas, with a 77 the 54-year-old Greg Norman could not emulate his own time-travelling adventures at Birkdale last year. But the grey-hairs still enjoyed a splendid representation. "Age is wisdom," said O'Meara with a profound laugh. Watson's explanation was rather more pointed. "There are some certain shots out here that the kids are unfamiliar with," he said.
There were plenty of unfamiliar shots in Ian Poulter's 75. The Englishman had been one of the main hopes of ending Britain's barren major run, which would stretch to a decade on Sunday evening. Now his challenge seems forlorn. In truth, this was not a good day for the home guard, with no one in the top 19. The world No 3, Paul Casey, was up there vying for the lead with seven holes remaining but two late bogeys saw him fall four off the lead after a 68. That happens to be the same mark as Lee Westwood, whose morning promised so much when he birdied the first three holes. Yet it could have been worse. Westwood was playing with Woods, so witnessed, at first hand, 18 holes of deep frustration.
This was the first time Woods has not broken par in the Open since 2003. During his 71, however, he did almost break at least three of his clubs on a bad-tempered day when if it wasn't his irons flying through the air it was his swear words. Seven shots back, this tournament is far from dead for the world No 1, but 30mph gusts are forecast for this afternoon and Woods may find himself on the wrong side of the draw. Jimenez, however, may well be in business, if he can get in before the winds arrived.
At 45, "The Mechanic" from Malaga is something of a golden oldie himself, as he proved with a beautifully neat card containing six birdies. "Experience is always important in the majors, no?" said Jimenez, one clear of Watson, Ben Curtis, the 2003 champion, and Japan's Kenichi Kuboya. "Yet the tournament has only just started."
Indeed, the majority of the field will still feel in contention as Norman pointed out. "Conditions are the easiest I've ever seen them," said the Australian. "This could be the most congested leader board ever at the Open."
Meanwhile, the Sandy-Monty feud continues. After a 75, Lyle called Colin Montgomerie a "drama queen", berated him for " hiding behind his manager" and challenged him to "sort it out like a man".
In The Independent on Tuesday the 51-year-old had accused Montgomerie of "cheating" at the 2005 Indonesia Open and questioned whether it could have worked against him being selected as Ryder Cup captain. Montgomerie, who shot a 71 yesterday, remains furious.
Shot of the day
The reaction was as loud as his trousers when John Daly almost holed his second shot for an albatross on the 538-yard par-5 seventh. Daly chased an iron up on to the green and it seemed certain to drop before horseshoeing the cup. Daly (aka the Wild Thing) simply shrugged his shoulders.
Duff of the day
Tiger Woods is not used to topping shots and the crowd are certainly not used to watching him do so. A gasp filled the galleries flanking the ninth hole when the world No 1 took a wild lurch at his ball in the rough and it proceeded to bobble its way up the fairway. Not one of his magic moments.
Nightmare of the day
Breaking 80 on this 'easy' Turnberry Thursday was not the most taxing challenge but, with an 83, South Africa's Jaco Ahlers failed fairly spectacularly. With four to go he was only five over. Then he treble-bogeyed the 15th, quadruple-bogeyed the 16th and bogeyed the 17th. Ouch!
The Open First-round scores
64 M A Jimenez (Sp).
65 T Watson (US); B Curtis (US); K Kuboya (Japan).
66 S Stricker (US); J Senden (Aus); S Cink (US); C Villegas (Col); M Goggin (Aus).
67 V Singh (Fiji); M O'Meara (US); M Calcavecchia (US); B Weekley (US); B Grace (SA); S Marino (US); M Weir (Can); R Goosen (SA); J Kingston (SA); J Furyk (US); R Sterne (SA).
68 A Wall; A Hansen (Den); S O'Hair (US); G McDowell; D Howell; L Westwood; D J Trahan (US); S Kjeldesen (Den); A Romero (Arg); S Hansen (Den); J B Holmes (US); P Casey; J Daly (US); T Lehman (US); R Ishikawa (Japan); T Pilkaridis (Aus).
69 G Fernandez-Castano (Sp); T Jaidee (Thai); B Mayfair (US); R Fisher; B Mayfair (US); E Els (SA); M Kaymer (Ger); J Rose; R McIlroy (N Irl); A Cabrera (Arg); P Harrington (Irl); D Love III (US); K Sutherland (US); D Drysdale; S Surry.
70 P Hanson (Swe); J Leonard (US); R Allenby (Aus); J Overton (US); S Garcia (Sp); N Dougherty; L Oosthuizen (SA); P Broadhurst; C Wood; B Molder (US); M Kuchar (US); R Ishikawa (Japan); C Wood; B Molder (US); M Kuchar (US); Z Johnson (US); F Jakobsen (Swe); R S Johnson (Swe); J Geary (NZ); E Saltman; D Smail (NZ).
71 N Watney (US); T Woods (US); A Scott (Aus); C Schwartzel (SA); M Manassero (It) (x); D Duval (US); D Clarke; K Perry (US); R Green (Aus); L Donald; H Stenson (Swe); K Duke (US); M Brown (NZ); J Edfors (Swe); M Brier (Aut); B Crane (US); G Bhullar (India); A Quiros (Sp); T Clark (SA); C Montgomerie; T Kondo (Japan); P Lawrie; S Appleby (Aus); P McGinley; C Hoffman (US); F Molinari (It); T Levet (Fr); T Aiken (SA); P Hedblom (Swe); F Hed Andersson (Swe).
72 O Wilson; R Echenique (Arg); G Storm; B Baird (US); B Snedeker (US); S Ames (Can); B Baird (US); L Glover (US); H Mahan (US); D Toms (US); P Goydos (US).
73 C Campbell (US); G Orr; R Finch; B Watson (US); P Marksaeng (Thai); R Rock; D Higgins (Irl); R Davies; B Gay (US); C Howell III (US); A Kim (US); T Wood (Aus).
74 R Sabbatini (SA); R Pampling (Aus); M Laird; T Haylock; T Stewart (Aus); J Kavanagh; K J Choi (S Kor); R Imada (Japan); C Pettersson (Swe); S Gross (Ger) (x); P Baker.
75 A Yano (Japan); R Jacquelin (Fr); M Cayeux (Zim); L Saltman; D Wardrop; S Lyle; T Hamilton (US); I Poulter; G Ogilvy (Aus).
76 Y Ikeda (Japan); D Gaunt (Aus); J Driscoll (US); K Oda (Japan).
77 W Liang (Chin); G Norman (Aus); R Ramsay; P Ellebye (Den); M Wright (Aus).
78 D Johnson (US); M Campbell (NZ); D McGrane; N Faldo; B Vaughan (US).
79 P Larrazabal (Sp); O Fisher.
83 J Ahlers (SA).
(GB & Irl unless stated, par 70) (x) denotes amateurs