Truth is, he composed the message, but relied on his wife, Barbara, to forward it to Tom Watson, minutes after he watched his longtime friend birdie the 16th and 17th holes to seize a one-stroke lead through three rounds of the 138th British Open.
“Like everybody else,” Nicklaus said in a story posted on his Web site, “I had some tears in my eyes.”
Nicklaus, who was on the short end to Watson in arguably the greatest head-to-head duel in major championship history, the famed “Duel in the Sun” here at Turnberry in 1977, said he watched most of the front nine and all of the back nine once Watson took to the course. “I did manage to play some tennis before it and in between some holes.”
He would not reveal what the text message said (“That is something between the two of us,” he wrote), but Nicklaus offered his thoughts on the fourth round.
“I think (Watson) will deal with it fine. Whether or not he wins, it doesn’t make a difference. What he has accomplished already is a phenomenal achievement. I just really hope he wins.”
MARINO’S LONG DAY: There were three bogeys in a row, followed by a double bogey. Later, there was a triple bogey compounded by a double bogey. Yet there also was a bit of a smile on Steve Marino’s face, and why not? He had a front-row seat to the scripting of a story that may rank as golf’s greatest.
“I joked with (Tom Watson). I said, ‘You could probably be the king of Scotland. These people love you,’ ” Marino said.
With a wild roller-coaster round of 76, Marino, who started the day tied with Watson at 5 under, fell to joint 10th at 1-over 211. That’s six behind Watson, who at 59 is 30 years older than Marino.
The co-leaders wasted little time in going in opposite directions.
Watson made five straight pars to remain at 5-under; Marino bogeyed Nos. 2-4, then doubled the difficult, par-4 fifth. “The left-to-right wind? I’ve been struggling with that all week,” Marino said.
While he rebounded with an eagle at the par-5 seventh and birdie at the par-3 11th, there was a bogey at the par-4 12th and a crushing blow at the par-3 15th when he missed the green into thick grass right. It took a search party to find the ball, Marino eventually took an unplayable lie and made triple bogey, then he doubled the par-4 16th.
A birdie-birdie finish, however, salvaged some positive spin on a day that left his head spinning.
“I was going along so well,” he said. “All of a sudden it was like, Bam! Next thing you know, I was like eight over on the round. Definitely a learning experience.”
FINDING IT: Bryce Molder has quietly put together a nice week here at his first Open Championship. On a blustery, windy morning when most players were returning scores well over par, Molder managed to shoot 3-under 67, moving all the way from T-53 into a tie for eighth at even par (210).
Molder had nine one-putt greens and played his final 11 holes in 5 under.
“I made three long putts for birdie,” he said. “I made two at the right time, when I was not playing as well. So things have to happen at the right time.”
Molder played in the Walker Cup and competed at a Palmer Cup at St. Andrews and was looking forward to his first Open experience. He qualified via a mini-money list that began at The Players and has been under par in 23 of his last 25 rounds.
“It’s been a lifelong dream to play here,” he said.
The top-10 finishers in the Open Championship will be invited to return to next year’s Open at St. Andrews.
LEARNING CURVE: Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was 7-over par through 15 holes but managed to birdie his final three to salvage a round of 74. McIlroy, 20, said he’d consider the week to be positive if he is able to improve upon his T-42 finish of a year ago. He currently is tied for 59th at 7-over 217.
He grew up playing plenty of links golf in Northern Ireland and is no stranger to the type of golf needed to succeed in an Open. But he said Saturday he believes he’s a player better suited for parkland-style golf than links-style.
“My ball flight (high) suits me better for parkland golf,” he said. “Coming here from Loch Lomand (last week’s Scottish Open) and the U.S. Open to where you have to hit it 4 feet off the ground … it’s a little different.”
More Watson memories: Marino is just the latest player to cherish a British Open moment along side Watson. Another who clings to one is Mathew Goggin, whose round of 69 pushed him to 3-under and into Sunday’s final pairing with the Hall of Famer.
“Shocking how good he was,” said Goggin, who was paired with Watson in the third round of the 2003 tournament at Royal St. George’s. “I mean, it was ridiculous. I played with him and I’m thinking, ‘You know, he’s getting on in years and not playing so much and he’s just smashing it around this golf course.'”
PERRY’S RUN: One year after playing just one round in the major championships and hearing the critics question his commitment to golf’s biggest events, Kenny Perry has recorded perfect attendance.
The 48-year-old Perry is one of 15 players who has made the cut in each of the three majors thus far in 2009. So, too, have Angel Cabrera, Steve Stricker, Sean O’Hair, Jim Furyk, Camilo Villegas, Graeme McDowell, Ross Fisher, Vijay Singh, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Kevin Sutherland, Andres Romero and Rory McIlroy.
SHORT SHOTS: As for the longest streak of consecutive cuts made in the majors, Romero and Furyk are both at eight, Garcia at seven. At the other end of the spectrum are Briny Baird, Michael Campbell, Alvaro Quiros, Brandt Snedeker and D.J. Trahan. They’ve all missed the cut in each of the three majors. … Ernie Els has made the cut in 18 consecutive British Opens. His South African friend, Retief Goosen, ran his streak to 11. … Tom Watson has made the cut all four times the British Open has been held at Turnberry. He made the cut in a major for the first time since the 2006 British Open. …
This marks the 40th time Watson has held the 54-hole lead/co-lead in 595 career starts on the PGA Tour, the most recent being the 1998 MasterCard Colonial, which he won. … He was tied for the 54-hole lead with Jack Nicklaus in 1977 at Turnberry before winning the second of his five Open Championships. Watson was two off the lead after three rounds in the 1994 Open at Turnberry.