Terrific Toms

We have grown accustomed to first-day surprises who quietly take their leave in the dead of Round 2. But with "Old Tom" Watson watching over his namesake "Young Tom" Lewis, Jim Huber wonders whether we might see something totally different this week.


Co-leader Tom Lewis (right) thrived on Thursday while being paired with the legendary Tom Watson, after whom he is named. (Getty Images)

By Jim Huber, Contributor

SANDWICH, England -- Young Tom Lewis.

Has a rather historical ring to it, doesn’t it?

Not even the Morris version a century-and-a-half ago was able to accomplish what the current edition managed in the first round of the Open Championship on Thursday over a finally-benign Royal St. George’s in southeastern England.

By now you know that Lewis, all of 20 amateur years, shot a 5-under par 65 to share the 18-hole lead with a man twice his age with five times the baggage. Thomas  Bjorn, playing with the kind of heart made ponderous by the recent loss of a father, for the first time back on the course that stole his last shot at glory in this very same championship eight years ago, was nudged aside late in the day by the British lad with the golden game.

For most of this first day, the 40-year-old Dane was the story every writer and broadcaster lives for. The man weary still with emotion, eyes perpetually red with tears, forgetting his own history to try and write a new chapter.

It was in the greenside bunker to the right of the 16th on Sunday in 2003, with a goodly lead, where Bjorn remained. Over and over again he tried to nudge the ball from the sand, only to see it return to his feet. And when he crawled home, he found his one shot at major glory taken by the upstart American Ben Curtis.

Those crowding the media center Thursday, eight years later, had their headline in hand. They forced Bjorn to finally say “enough about my father,” settling instead with the tale of the man who looked his own destiny in the eye and spit at it. He wouldn’t even have been there this week, had it not been for the withdrawal of several players, including Vijay Singh. So as the fifth alternate, he took advantage, and wasn’t the story going to be sweet?

But then, as the nearby helicopters tried turning the back side into a rendition of downtown Hanoi, as the infamous winds off the English Channel bade farewell for the date, along marched Young Tom.

For a while, his story was only his name, given to him as a tribute to his father’s golfing hero Tom Watson. And by the grace of those wacky wizards who plot the pairings like a dingy old broad preparing the ultimate seating chart, he would play alongside the old hero. Watson, smiling every so often at the kid’s precocity, is playing on the R&A’s version of Overtime. At 61, he would have been a year past-due under the old rules. But his astonishing play at Turnberry in 2009 gave the decisionmakers pause and so he is welcome at least until he’s 65 now.

What he watched all day Thursday was nothing new to him. He played the first two days at Turnberry with the gifted teenager Matteo Manassero and has been paired with Rory McIlroy in past events as well.

But this time he was watching an amateur who shot 63-65 to qualify for the Open and who will hold off turning professional until after this summer’s Walker Cup.

And for all the history that Watson has both witnessed and played a starring role in over the decades, this might have made even him catch his breath just a bit.

We have grown accustomed over the years to first-day surprises, glorious characters who quietly take their leave in the dead of Round 2.

But with Old Tom watching over his namesake, one wonders if this particular Young Tom might grace us all with something totally different.

Does have a ring to it, doesn’t it?