x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Watson hails level of talent

Tom Watson will face strong competition when he seeks to defend his Senior British Open title this weekend.

Tom Watson celebrates victory at last year's Senior British Open Championship.
Tom Watson celebrates victory at last year's Senior British Open Championship.

TROON // It is not often the venerable Tom Watson does not get the main billing at a senior major, but Greg Norman's startling performance at last week's British Open has consigned the defending champion to something akin to a sideshow act. Norman was within nine holes of becoming the oldest major winner in history at Royal Birkdale on Sunday, and there is a buzz about his revival that has added credibility to this weekend's Senior British Open at Royal Troon.

The Australian will hope to continue his form over a Troon course, with a testing par of 71, where Watson is trying to win a fourth British senior title. Watson won five British Opens amid his eight majors, but is trying to repeat the achievement of winning the Senior Open on a third course where he also won the Open. The American and Sandy Lyle, who has recovered from withdrawing during the first round of the British Open, will play with Norman in the first two rounds.

"You can say that the level of competition is very high this week," said Watson. "You can say that the man who almost won the Open championship is playing here this week. "You have Bernhard Langer here, who is a wonderful player. I would also tip my fellow American Andy Bean as a dark horse. "I'm just trying to win a golf tournament this week, but I know we are going to play a pretty long and difficult course."

Lyle cited problems with a hand as the reason he withdrew from Birkdale at 11 over par. "If I had continued, I would have probably made things even worse," he said. "If I got in the rough, and with one or two heavy shots I could have made my left hand a lot worse than it really was." The former European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer applauded Norman's effort in leading the Open. Langer is making his debut at the senior event.

"I know that Greg is a great player, but I was a bit surprised. To have a two-shot lead after three rounds is awesome," he said. The German player also praised Martin Kaymer, the Abu Dhabi champion who recently lost his mother to cancer. Langer feels he can emulate his efforts in the Ryder Cup. "He's had a pretty awful time," he said. "He is a great player, and I'm sure if he doesn't make the Ryder Cup this year he will next time."