It wasn't raining hard at Royal St George's yesterday; it was absolutelypersisting down. It was like Glastonbury – with diamond-patterned jumpers. Tom Watson, of course, was wearing one. After his round he looked like he had just walked through a car wash.
"What are you laughing at?" he said with a grin. "You just love to see us pros suffer, don't you?" Just how bad was it out there? "It can tear you up and spit you out," he said. Not Watson it didn't. The five-times champion posted a two-over-par 72 to be four over for the championship. A remarkable score in the worst conditions of the day during which the 1999 champion, Paul Lawrie, a filthy-weather specialist, drowned with an 81 and said: "To play in those conditions is criminally insane."
Watson, then, must be mad, and he did indeed take some sadistic pleasure from being lashed by the worst that the Kent skyline could throw at Royal St George's. "I enjoyedthat," Watson said. "It was fun. There were some great escapes out there." He explained his putter saved him from a 77. "I just had that feel for some odd reason. I hope it continues tomorrow," he said. "Now I know why I won all those Opens before."
Heck, this wasn't even the worst storm he had trudged through during his Open campaigns. Muirfield in 1980 takes that dubious honour. He shot 68. Watson sure knows how to scramble his way around a links in a hooley. Watson is 61 and the oldest player to make the cut in Open history, beating his own record at Turnberry in 2009, when he was one putt away from a movie script.
The fire still burns in his belly. He really does believe that there is another Claret Jug out there for him before he is done. He simply refuses to give up. It's like Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Watson just has to keep chasingthat marlin. When he awoke yesterdayto see the sideways rain and a fellow with a beard building an ark he must have secretly smiled. "I'll never tell," Watson said, grinning. We'll take that as a yes. "I kinda like that challenge when it's nasty out there," he said. "Dastardly, as Peter Alliss calls it."
Watson doesn't hail from the golf school of bish, bash, bosh that so many modern players seem to have graduated from. He's old-school tickle, tweak and coax. He handed some free lessons in his dark art to his playing partner, 30-year-old Ricky Barnes from California. Playing the 495-yard fourth into the howling wind, Watson was so far back after his tee shot that he chose to fizz a driver off the fairway, sending it scudding off towards its target. He saved par. "Par is a good score," he said – especially so when the Open is turned into an episode of I'm A Celebrity Golfer... Get Me Out Of Here! Under such conditions, did Watson not think the R&A could have made the fourth hole into a par five?
"It doesn't matter," Watson said. "Call it a par three. Players will be coming off saying, ah I got a five, a double bogey." Lesson one: the par of the hole doesn't matter. It's the score that counts.
Lesson two: listen up kids, you don't have to smack the logo off your ball. "The kids hit it so far past me," Watson said. "You see a lot of them tryingto hit low, hard stingers. I can't hit it hard. I'm 61. But [golf] also takes some guile, luck and wits."
Physically, Watson is fighting above his weight against the new generation of gym-junkie athletes. Mentally,he knows he can still beat them. And in golf, that is more than half the battle.
"Let's do without the rain and have some wind," Watson said, "and see what happens." The look in his eyes tells you he still believes he can win his sixth Open Championship.