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Watson defies age to stay in lead at Turnberry

IANS
Jul 19, 2009 at 04:26pm IST

Turnberry, (Scotland): It may have been a day early, but the ageless Tom Watson sure loved the old visual of him in a green T-shirt walking down the 18th fairway in 1977 flashing on the giant screen at Ailsa Craig course at Turnberry.

In a week overflowing with memories, it was yet another sepia-tinted moment as minutes later the 59-year-old Watson walked off the 18th green with sole lead and dreams of a sixth Claret Jug six weeks ahead of his 60th birthday.

The crowd at Turnberry seemed to have forgotten Tiger Woods' absence as they cheered each Watson step.

GOLF'S GREAT: The crowd at Turnberry cheered Tom Watson.

He had just sunk a 30-footer for a birdie on 16th -- remember he had a 60-footer on Friday at the same hole -- and then narrowly missed an eagle on 17th. The birdie was nevertheless safely pocketed. A nice par on the 18th followed and Watson, after a quick hug from his wife, Hilary, disappeared into the scorer's tent.

Despite his first over par round of the week at 71, Watson was one clear of unheralded Australian, Matthew Goggin (69), and Englishman Ross Fisher (70), who has made no secret of having a private jet waiting to fly him back home should he get a call about his wife delivering their first child.

There's been no dearth of drama at this 138th Open, which woke up to a strange Saturday at a Major -- it was one without Tiger Woods on the weekend and one where a 59-year-old Watson, was looking to further his reputation as the world's best Links player.

As the Open moved towards its climax, five-time Open champion and eight-time Major winner Watson has for company Goggin, whose best memory of a Major has been a third round pairing with Watson back in 2003.

The English who had great hopes from last year's runner-up Ian Poulter, still have hopes as Fisher was just a shot behind Watson and further one behind was Lee Westwood (70), who after a superb display all through closed with an agonising bogey on the 18th.

Westwood earlier dropped a bogey on third but then played steadily and picked a birdie on 12th and another on 17th, but the bogey on the 18th left a bitter taste.

Retief Goosen was briefly tied for the lead with Watson - until the South African took a double bogey at the seventh. Despite two other bogeys on 12th and 14th, he kept himself afloat with an eagle on 17th for a day's work of 71 and a tied fourth place with Westwood.

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Watson won the last of his five British Opens in 1983, but his famous 1977 win at Turnberry has led to the 18th hole at the course and the suite at the Hotel in which he is staying across the road being named as the "Duel in the Sun" after his epic battle with Jack Nicklaus. The clash is regarded by many as the greatest ever Major finish.

Watson parred the first five holes before bogeying the sixth and picking a birdie on seventh. A par and a bogey later, he was one-under for front nine. On the back nine he dropped another bogey on 12th to drop to three-under, but still in shared lead. On the back nine, he dropped bogeys on 12th and 15th, but brilliant birdie efforts on 16th and 17th and a steady par on 18th meant sole lead for Watson.

Watson is looking to become the oldest Major champion. The oldest winner at the Open was another Tom - Tom Morris, who was 46, when he won in 1867. And the oldest ever to win a Major, was Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 US PGA Championship.

Adding to the drama at this unpredictable Open was rank outsider Goggin, who has made only two cuts in his previous eight Major appearances with tied 36th at 2007 US Open being the best. Though a member of the PGA Tour, he has never won the US, European or Asian Tour and the last of his five professional wins came nine years ago on the Nationwide Tour.

Indicating a tight finish was the fact that no less than 13 golfers were within five shots of Watson. Another 13 were one further down.

Overnight joint leader Marino had the most eventful 12 holes, which included three bogeys and a double in four holes between second and fifth. But an eagle on seventh meant he was still fighting, but in the end finished with a 76 and was tied 10th.

The Asian challenge was left in the hands of a former paratrooper from Thailand Thongchai Jaidee (69), who was tied for eighth at the end of the third round.

Jaidee, winner of most titles on Asian Tour (12) shot a one-under 69 despite three bogeys on the back nine to be even par for three days and have a shy at a top-10 if not better.

"I've been receiving many text messages congratulating me and giving me lots of encouragement. I know many people are watching me back home and I cannot let them down," said Jaidee, who last made the cut at a Major in 2005 Open.

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