Watson fails to reproduce magic of 'special day'

US Open: Champion of 1982 leads after first round but prefers to talk of debilitating disease affecting his caddie
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The Independent Online

As hard as he sought, the magic he found the evening before was not quite there for Tom Watson on the second day of the 103rd US Open. The 53-year-old Watson was the talk of Olympia Fields after he shared the first-round lead. "I don't care if I shoot 90 tomorrow," said the 1982 US Open champion.

Watson was not about to do that and when he went out in level par he was still contending for the lead. But he made a double bogey six at the 12th hole before getting back to four under with a birdie at the 14th to be three strokes behind the early clubhouse leader, Jim Furyk.

Conditions were again ideal for scoring yesterday morning and the 33-year-old Ryder Cup player took advantage with a 66 to be seven under. Furyk, who was fourth at then Masters in April, birdied the two par-fives on the front nine and also picked up shots at the 13th and the 14th.

He missed the chance to go further ahead when his eight-foot birdie attempt at the last lipped out. Darren Clarke, his playing partner, also just missed a three at the 18th and finished on one under after a 69.

Phil Mickelson, the third member of the group, posted his second successive 70.

Furyk is not as long as those two but only missed one green in regulation throughout his round. He set a new record low aggregate for 36 holes in the US Open of 133, wiping out a foursome that included Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Other than Watson, Nick Price and Eduardo Romero, both in their 40s, were flying the flag for the older generation as they also got to four under, Price after a 65.

The European closed to the lead was Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson. The Portuguese Open champion birdied the third and the fourth to get to three under.

Watson's 65 on Thursday matched his best ever in the US Open and produced great drama late in the afternoon. "Will wonders never cease?" Watson said. "It was a special day, not only for me but for my caddie, Bruce."

Bruce Edwards has caddied for Watson for 30 years. In January, he was diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known here as Lou Gehrig's disease, after the famous baseball player who died from it.

"He is deteriorating some," Watson said of Edwards. "It is an insidious disease which speeds up the aging process."

Watson asked the United States Golf Association for permission for Edwards to use a buggy and the request was granted. Edwards refused the offer. His speech gets slurred when he tires but Edwards is determined to keep working as long as he can.

"The whole day was emotional because you never know if this is going to be my last one," he said. "If anything, with the disease I have, what I'm trying to do is show other people to keep going.

"I don't know when I won't be able to do it any more but I feel pretty good. I sound like the town drunk but to hell with that. I love what I do. I love working for Tom. I have so many memories with him but today's was a beautiful round. I'm on cloud nine right now and it makes me forget all my problems."

Watson drew on the memories he had of the course from playing it as an amateur in the Western Open in 1968. He was also using, at the suggestion of Edwards, an old putter of the same style as he used to win five Opens and eight majors in all between 1975 and 1983. He bogeyed his first, the 10th, then holed out with a six-iron from 171 yards for an eagle at the 12th.

But it was his last three holes that made the day. At the seventh, Watson's 45-foot birdie putt stopped on the cup's edge but as he walked towards the hole, it fell in to a huge roar. He then birdied the next and got up and down from a bunker at the ninth.

There was a hardly a dry eye in the house. "I'm trying to do my job and Bruce is over there kind of crying," Watson said. "There were quite a few tears from both of us at the end."

Watson received a special invitation to play at Olympia Fields and knows it might be his last appearance in the US Open. "I love playing this tournament because it's the most challenging, the most difficult test we play all year and I always relished that," he said.

But all Watson really wanted to talk about was ALS. "Since I've got the pulpit, I'm going to make a little speech. ALS is an orphan disease which the drug companies can't make money finding a cure for because there are not enough people who have it.

"There are 30,000 with the disease but 250,000 will get it in the next 20 years. The funding has to come privately, from patients and patients' families.

"There is not yet enough money to find a cure. People are going to die from it quickly. The average life span of someone with ALS is three years. There are drugs that could cure it but they won't be available for five to 10 years."

Brett Quigley, who shared the overnight lead with Watson, fell back with a 74 to be one under. Quigley has his father caddieing for him since he was fired by his insurance firm after 33 years last month.

Quigley's playing partner, Brian Davis, who was five under for his first four holes on Thursday, had a 72 to be three over and was left waiting to see whether he would make the cut.