Watson rolls back the years with vintage 67

Click to follow
The Independent Online
TIM GLOVER

reports from St Andrews

When Tom Watson won his fifth and last Open, 12 long years ago, he began with a 67. That was at Royal Birkdale, where par was 71 so yesterday's 67, five under in the first round of the 124th Open Championship, was of an even greater vintage over the Old Course. Watson, of course, has been here before and a question remains to be answered: is this the young Tom or the old Tom?

The 45-year-old from Kansas, who shared the lead yesterday with Ben Crenshaw, John Daly and Mark McNulty, led the Open at Turnberry 12 months ago when hardly anybody could live with his play from tee to green, but in the final round he shot 74 to Nick Price's 66. Everyone's worst fears were realised and he took 41 putts. Anything longer than a foot and he was in trouble. Great player, they said of Watson, but he can't putt to save his life.

He was more at home on the greens here, which he thought were slower than in 1990 and in shot-making his supporters were treated to the old Watson. "I hit some shots I will always remember," he said. So did Jack Nicklaus, but for the wrong reasons.

While Watson, who has never held the old claret jug at the home of golf, was taking a sentimental journey on a day when the air was thick with humidity and nostalgia, Nicklaus was reduced to a spot of club throwing after recording a most imperfect 10 at the par five 14th. Tommy Nakajima, who once had a nine at the Road Hole and who was playing with Nicklaus yesterday, knew the feeling.

The Golden Bear was trapped in Hell Bunker and took four shots to get out. That is when he indulged in an act which looked like something out of the Highland Games and the pitching wedge was propelled through the air. Minutes later it was followed by the sand iron. "I was just trying to hit it out sideways," Nicklaus said, "but there was nothing I could do." He couldn't wait to get the hell out of there.

Nicklaus had twice won the Open here in amassing 20 major titles but the Old Course had never treated him with such disdain. This was his 34th successive appearance in the Open and as if going to hell and back was not bad enough, Big Jack compounded the embarrassment by taking three putts when he finally reached the green. Nevertheless, it was not a first. In the 1962 Open at Troon -won by Arnold Palmer - Nicklaus, making his debut, had a 10 at the 11th.

Nick Faldo was also in the mood for some club throwing. Four hours before his tee time Faldo was practising his putting and if his work on the greens proved to be a frustrating experience he also had problems with other aspects of his game. After a 74 he declined to be interviewed.

When Faldo won here in 1990 he visited just one bunker in four days. Yesterday he could hardly avoid them. He had a six at the 14th, a five at the 17th and had only two birdies, the second of which came, improbably, at the 18th. His tee shot at the last flew so far left it crossed the first fairway and his ball rolled through a crash barrier and into a thin line of spectators. Faldo was given a free drop and then pitched to within five feet of the flag. Finally a putt dropped.

Watson might have had an inkling that this was his day when he sank a monstrous putt of around 70 feet at the first for a birdie after hitting a poor drive and a poor approach shot. At the short eighth he hooked a five-iron and putted off the green for a bogey, and at the second par three, the 11th he put his five-iron in a bunker and another bogey ensued.

"I played some pretty good golf coming in," Watson said, with a degree of understatement. He birdied the 12th and 13th and eagled the 14th, hitting a three-wood approach to within 15 feet of the flag. Watson needed seven strokes fewer than Nicklaus to play the hole. He also played the Road Hole beautifully, floating in a seven-iron and allowing the wind to drift it back towards the flag. "It came up smelling like a rose," Watson said.

As Watson came down the 18th, past the Old Tom Morris golf shop, he doffed his tweed cap in recognition of the applause. It was not just for Watson but also his playing partners Greg Norman and Gordon Sherry. While all three were birdieing the 18th, Arnold Palmer was going down the first for the penultimate time in his Open swansong. Arnie shot 83 but nobody was really counting.

Daly's round took five hours. The R & A's aim was to get a three-ball round in four hours 20 minutes, and they thought that was "very generous". The scores of the final group did not appear until 10 minutes to 10, when the course was in semi-darkness. "I seem to have been out there forever," Daly said. He had seven birdies, one of them at the 12th where he drove the green. Daly, who made one putt of 123 feet, is suffering from migraines. The reformed alcoholic said:"I don't know where they've come from. I never had a hangover when I drank."

The four joint leaders are one stroke in front of David Feherty, Vijay Singh, Bill Glasson and Mats Hallberg. Feherty, joint fourth in last year's Open, gave another bravura performance, on and off the course. Since the break up of his marriage, the Irishman, who is based in Dallas, has lost 40lb. "Actually, it's 150lbs if you include my wife," he said. "I think I'll marry George Michael on a beach in Hawaii."

Feherty has been having a lean time on the US Tour. "I've not been in the right psychological or emotional state," he said. "I've been running, doing weights and drinking like a fish. I'm on the Divorce Diet. You get sick of the travelling and you need someone to be sick with." He denied he was sporting designer stubble. "I'm an afternoon shaver. When your hands shake so badly in the morning you might cut your head off."

Feherty, who once trained as an opera singer, had six birdies, two bogeys. "I actually paid attention to what I was doing," he said. "Very few weird thoughts came into my head but I feel they will make a reappearance before the end of the week. If I didn't have a sense of humour I'd probably be hanging from a tree although somehow I'd probably screw that up too."

COMPLETE FIRST-ROUND SCORES

(GB or Irl unless stated, *denotes amateur)

67

T Watson (US)

M McNulty (Zim)

J Daly (US)

B Crenshaw (US)

68

D Feherty

V Singh (Fiji)

B Glasson (US)

M Hallberg (Swe)

69

C Pavin (US)

J Gallagher Jnr (US)

S Lowery (US)

D Clarke

D Gilford

G Sauers (US)

C Rocca (It)

J Cook (US)

P-U Johansson (Swe)

70

R Claydon

*G Sherry

M Ozaki (Japan)

N Price (Zim)

*S Webster

D Love III (US)

P Baker

K Tomori (Japan)

A Coltart

W Riley (Aus)

J Rivero (Sp)

A Forsbrand (Swe)

F Nobilo (NZ)

M Brooks (US)

P Mickelson (US)

S Bottomley

71

M Calcavecchia (US)

D Duval (US)

G Norman (Aus)

I Woosnam

B Claar (US)

P O'Malley (Aus)

S Torrance

P Senior (Aus)

M Campbell (NZ)

R Weir

J Bickerton

*G Clark

O Karlsson (Swe)

G Player (SA)

S Lyle

B Faxon (US)

B Tway (US)

L Westwood

K Green (US)

R Allenby (Aus)

J Huston (US)

P Jacobsen (US)

E Els (SA)

J Coceres (Arg)

D Cooper

D Robertson

72

P Linhart (Sp)

B Langer (Ger)

D Frost (SA)

M O'Meara (US)

R Kawagishi (Japan)

R Floyd (US)

*S Gallacher

T Kite (US)

T Wargo (US)

S Simpson (US)

J Delsing (US)

B Lane

S Burnell

P Carman

R Boxall

N Graves

G Hallberg (US)

J-M Olazabal (Sp)

S Elkington (Aus)

P Stewart (US)

B Watts (US)

B Estes (US)

M James

B Longmuir

W Bennett

73

B Ogle (Aus)

A Oldcorn

B Charles (NZ)

M McCumber (US)

C Strange (US)

L Janzen (US)

P Broadhurst

M A Martin (Sp)

M Besanceney (Fr)

P Lawrie

P Mitchell

T Nakajima (Japan)

J Leonard (US)

J Hawksworth

M Gates

74

M Clayton (Aus)

P Azinger (US)

M Davis

E Romero (Arg)

C Stadler (US)

P Fowler (Aus)

J Lomas

N Roderick

R Drummond

N Faldo

L Mize (US)

S Hoch (US)

H Sasaki (Japan)

*T Woods (US)

B Jobe (US)

E Herrera (Col)

75

P Burke (US)

M Nichols

C Mason

L Trevino (US)

M A Jimenez (Sp)

W Grady (Aus)

M Springer (US)

T Johnstone (Zim)

C Montgomerie

J Parnevik (Swe)

J Morse (US)

J Sandelin (Swe)

S Ballesteros (Sp)

P Walton

J Maggert (US)

R Rafferty

M Roe

A Tillman

J Wither

76

L Roberts (US)

K Takami (Japan)

B Andrade (US)

J Haas (US)

C Parry (Aus)

H Clark

J Watson

B Lohr (US)

D Pooley (US)

T Weiskopf (US)

M Thompson

S Leaney (Aus)

77

A Crerar

R Karlsson (Swe)

P Mayo

F Andersson (Swe)

J Spence

I Baker-Finch (Aus)

78

G Stafford

B Bryant (US)

J Nicklaus (US)

80

B Chamblee (US)

T Suzuki (Japan)

81

M Gronberg (Swe)

83

A Palmer (US)

Comments