Tom Watson knew from experience that he'd have a chance after the turn, and he was right. (Little/Getty Images)
Co-leader Watson's second round a tale of two nines
When Tom Watson bogeyed four straight holes on his front side Friday, it looked like his magic has vanished. But after an amazing back nine that featured two huge birdie putts, he was right back on top.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
TURNBERRY, Scotland -- Those four straight bogeys he’d just made wore heavily on Tom Watson’s mind as he walked down the eighth fairway at Turnberry in the cold and drizzle Friday afternoon.
“Come on, old man,” Sergio Garcia said, patting his playing partner on the back.
“Well, I feel like an old man,” the 59-year-old responded good-naturedly, adding he was playing like one, too.
Maybe so. But 11 holes later, Watson had righted the ship, rolling in a 60-footer at the 18th hole that elicited a jubilant kick -- “my Scottish jig,” he would say -- to move into a tie for the lead at the 138th Open Championship.
Watson, who has won five Open Championships, including the extraordinary 1977 duel with Jack Nicklaus at this same Ailsa Course, shares the lead at 5 under with Steve Marino, who is making his debut in golf’s oldest major here on the shores of the Irish Sea.
A 25-footer for birdie at No. 9 turned things around for Watson. He followed with a 50-footer at the 16th and the bomb at the home hole that elicited a deafening roar from the Scottish fans who have embraced this links master as Watson has enveloped them.
“It was two nine holes, put it that way,” Watson said. “The outgoing nine was not very spectacular, was pretty awful, as a matter of fact. … But I never gave up hope because I knew that the incoming nine was going to play a little bit easier going downwind.”
The key for Watson over the first 36 holes has been keeping the ball in play. He never lost faith in his ability, either, even after he played his first seven holes in a dismal 4 over. That pep talk from Garcia didn’t hurt, either.
“It’s amazing the way he plays, the way he hits the ball,” said Garcia, who shot 69 on Friday and is four strokes behind the two leaders.
Watson spent the morning answering about 100 e-mails and reading about -- of all things -- climate change. He didn’t watch the leaderboard and he didn’t turn on the BBC, which delivers 11 hours of coverage each of the first two days.
“Honestly, I didn't,” Watson said. “I just knew what the golf course was going to give me today, and it wasn't going to be very much on the outgoing nine.”
The back nine, though, was another story. And Watson knew from experience he would have a chance after he made the turn.
“That's kind of the way links golf is,” he explained. “And they talk about patience, right? “But you make a game plan, and fortunately it worked today with the help of a couple of 60-footers.”
Not to mention, for the second straight day, Watson said the spirits were with him. He wasn’t talking ghosts or angels, but simple the memories of rounds gone by at Turnberry, Carnoustie, St. Andrews, et al, and the game an “old fart” -- his words, not ours -- like Watson came to love.
“You know, walking down the fairways, walking up onto the greens, people showing their respect for me, showing my respect for them,” he said. “And it's been since 1975, 34 years I've played links golf. And it's a fabric of my life, I can tell you that.
“To be able to be doing what I'm doing out here, making a few lucky putts here and there and still feeling like I have a chance to win, that's pretty cool at age 59. That's why it's kind of spiritual.”