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Watson continues to defy age
They didn’t see the ball as it flew at the flag, but they didn’t need eyes to know what had happened.
Their ears told them that the old man by the sea had reeled himself in an ace.
Even for a couple of grizzled veterans who’ve seen it all, the hole-in-one was a magical moment as the crowds roared for the most beloved of Americans on this side of the Pond.
“He’s just an amazing golfer,” Allenby, shaking his head, told Love.
At 61, Watson’s still got that Huckleberry Finn boyish grin, still got that glint in his eye, still got that beautiful, age-defying swing and, most of all, hasn’t lost his hunger for this, his most treasured tournament.
On Friday, playing in his 34th Open Championship, he became the oldest man to make the cut at this oldest of majors.
Typically, Watson wasn’t accepting congratulations but instead ruing missed opportunities.
He’s won five Claret Jugs and needs only one to tie the record-holder, Harry Vardon.
If that sounds a little trite to write about a senior citizen, it’s not meant to be: Be sure that Watson’s not here to soak up applause and trade off fading memories.
The man can still play.
“I guess I refuse to be a ceremonial player,” he said, “(When) that time comes, then I’ll hang them up.”
In the meantime, there’s a tournament to be won.
“I am still disappointed about the three three-putts I had today,” he said.
“That’s disappointing because that puts me at 1 under par for the tournament rather than 2 over par for the tournament.
“The winner of this golf tournament is going to be around par somewhere, I think. They’re not going to be screaming under par with the weather forecast the next two days.
“It’s going to be a difficult golf course, it is a difficult golf course, but the conditions are going to make it super difficult the next two days.”
Although an old man can dream, he’s also realistic about his chances.
“If I was putting a little better, I’d give myself at least an outside chance, let’s put it that way,” he said.
Henrik Stenson’s not about to write Watson off. He played with him for the first two rounds and knows better.
“He’s such a great player and he’s got a game that suits this type of golf,” he said.
I asked the Swede if he could imagine being 61 and still be challenging the game’s young turks?
“Right now I’m 35 and I’m one shot behind him, so maybe I‘m not the right person to ask,” he said.
Love said Watson “gets inspired when he comes over here.”
The links is an acquired taste many never acquire. Most players dread the prospect of pulling on the waterproofs.
“Not Tom — if it gets windy and rainy, he gets excited,” Love said.
He was certainly excited about the ace, the 15th of his life, and afterward told the most lovely story about his first.
As a boy, playing by himself, he holed out on the short par-3 second at Kansas City Country Club. He got to the turn then went into the clubhouse “because I had to go tell somebody.”
He’d read in Golf Digest that anyone who made a hole-in-one with a Dunlop ball would get a commemorative wooden plaque with a “No. 1.” The assistant professional, John Cosnotti, sadly informed him that the plaque would be given only for holes-in-one that were witnessed.
The young Watson was crestfallen, but Cosnotti walked over to the window and stared out at the second green.
“You know, Tom,” he told him, “I saw that go in.”
Among his most treasured golf possessions, Watson still has that plaque with the Dunlop No. 4 ball.
But for how much longer will he be winning trophies?
“I don’t know, until this old body says ‘no mas’,” Watson said.
“If I’m out there not able to compete and shooting 80 or 78 or 76 all the time, I’m not going to stay around very much if I do that.”
I asked him how old he felt.
“I feel in pretty good shape. I’m not too bad,” he said.
“But when you see these kids and the speed with which they hit the golf ball with their driver, it’s just a different sound. Their sound is a whoosh and mine is a thud. There’s a difference.
“But,” he said with a wink, “The thud works every time.”
Robert Lusetich's coverage of the 2011 British Open is brought to you by British Airways.
The thud almost worked in 2009, when at 59, Watson heartbreakingly lost a playoff to Stewart Cink after hitting what seemed a perfect approach into the final hole at the Open Championship. Watson needed just a par to seal what would’ve been the greatest victory in golf. Instead his ball inexplicably rolled through the green and from there, his nerves betrayed him.
“If he’d hit a fat 8-iron at Turnberry,” Love mused, “He’d probably have won.”
But that’s the thing about Tom Watson, he doesn’t hit ‘em fat.
Even at 61, he strikes them pure.