Watson suffers in Norman conquest

American denied at Open likely to be spared further heartache after Australian's surge, writes James Corrigan
Click to follow
The Independent Online

At least this Sunday evening will not be as anticlimactic for Tom Watson as the last Sunday evening.

The youngest 59-year-old in the world fell six shots behind some 54-year-old whippersnapper called Greg Norman in the Senior British Open at Sunningdale yesterday and unless his putter today obliges his owner in joining him on his time-travel back to the Seventies, Watson's extraordinary two weeks will end winless.

However, never will a loser have left such a triumphant legacy. The massive crowds were in attendance again at the Berkshire course and although Watson's form on the greens continued to let down the Open runner-up's peerless long game there were other golfers out there determined to re-brand the "OAP" acronym old-aged par-breakers.

Most prominently there was Norman, whose 64 saw him overhaul the seven-shot lead of Fred Funk to take a one-shot advantage. It was a classic Norman Saturday move in a major and the organisers will be praying it will not trigger a classic Norman Sunday move in a major (ie one backwards). He was the one who showed what was possible for the old boys in last year's Open and a first Senior major for the Great White Shark would in many ways be the ideal result.

"Am I as excited as I used to be when holding a lead going into the last day of a major?" he said. "I would say I am. You don't lose that competitive streak just because you've gotten older. Just look at Tom last week."

Indeed, everyone has continued to look at Tom last week and everyone continues to bask in the glow of his achievement. Well, almost everyone.

Incredibly, certain commentators have elected to give the 138th Open Championship a negative slant. The question "what does this say about the quality of golf?" has reverberated around the intelligentsia, while some even managed to proffer the opinion that Watson coming within an exceedingly grey whisker of sporting immortality actually compounded what had been a miserable golfing year (the no-names of Angel Cabrera and Lucas Glover having had the temerity to win the opening two majors).

In fact, what Watson's waltz down memory fairway did was confirm golf as the most age-inclusive big-time sport. Already in this season we had witnessed two teenagers winning on the European Tour and a 48-year-old winning twice on the PGA Tour, as well as making the Masters play-off.

And while the seniors have understandably welcomed the myth-destroying deeds of one of their own, Watson may in fact have irrevocably weakened their Tour. Listening to Vijay Singh earlier in the week it was all too easy to sense how Turnberry '09 will inspire the generation supposedly about to join up with the golden oldies.

"You know, I was thinking, 50, 51, 52 maybe, I'd still have enough energy and strength to compete," said the 46-year-old. "But now after what Tom's done, it kind of gives you a second life... After I turn 50, if I can compete, I will keep going. I played with Bubba Watson in the Open the first two days, and you all know how far he hits it. I wasn't that far behind him."

Improved fitness regimes have helped and it could get better for the vets section, when a move to rein back the benefits of technology are introduced next year. The new V groove rule, according to the USGA, places restrictions on the cross-sectional area and edge sharpness of club grooves. The revisions have been implemented to "restore the challenge of playing shots to the green from the rough by reducing backspin on those shots.'' Norman, himself, has welcomed the changes, saying that it will favour the shot-makers "with feel and touch". Two of these will include, erm, Tom Watson and Greg Norman. A one-off, they say. Don't believe it. On a links course it could happen again.

Tip of the week


Playing in the wind will always find out the flaws in your game. When playing into or across the wind, the most important thing is to reduce your ball's spin-rate, as too much spin will cause a ballooning effect with loss of distance and control. Play at least three clubs more than normal and make a shallow, sweeping swing, picking the ball cleanly from the turf. A downward striking action will only increase back-spin. Playing more club than needed will encourage a slower swing speed and, with less loft on a longer club, decrease the spin-rate, keeping the ball flying straighter and lower. Always refrain from hitting hard into the wind. Take more club and play it smooth.

Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey. www.theshortgame.co.uk