x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Watson turns back the years

Tom Watson, 32 years after winning the first Open Championship to be staged on its Ailsa course, confounds those who suggested he would be a one-day wonder.

Tom Watson has lit up Turnberry 32 years after winning the British Open and continues to defy all expectations.
Tom Watson has lit up Turnberry 32 years after winning the British Open and continues to defy all expectations.

TURNBERRY // Tom Watson, who lit up the entire Turnberry on Thursday 32 years after winning the first Open Championship to be staged on its Ailsa course, confounded those who suggested he would be a one-day wonder by refusing to collapse when most of his good first round work had been undone. After slipping from five under par to one under on the tougher outward nine, the great man somehow retrieved all four of those dropped shots helped by some remarkable putting which brought him long-range birdies at the 16th and 18th.

The American, whose brilliant five-under-par 65 led for most of a long opening day until Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez posted a 64, initially struggled to reproduce his impeccable display as a tricky wind off the Irish sea rapidly bit into the 59-year-old five-time champion. A birdie at the first proved a false dawn as five shots were frittered away in the next six holes, including a bogey six at the relatively easy seventh. But he fought back superbly like the true champion he is - or was - to end the day back where he started at five under the card.

It was a contrasting second day for the first round heroes. Watson's fellow American Ben Curtis - the 2003 champion - endured a harrowing time. Joint leader when he finished his first round, he found himself going home after a disastrous 80 left him well below the halfway cut. Like Watson, Curtis started with a birdie three but then dropped nine strokes in as many holes to see his hopes of a second triumph disintegrate.

Kenichi Kuboya, of Japan, was the third man within one stroke of the overnight leader Jimenez at the start of play and he briefly captured the outright lead thanks to birdies at the first and fourth. But that was as good as it got as he subsided from seven under to two under before a welcome birdie at the long 17th repaired some of the damage and enabled him to finish two shots adrift. That meant he was tied with Jimenez, who had snatched the first-day honours with a monstrous putt on the final hole to equal the tournament record of 64 for the opening round.

The Spaniard had slipped back to only one under after 10 holes but stuck bravely to the task and birdies at 11 and 17 left him reasonably happy going into today's third round. wjohnson@thenational.ae