Five-time champion Tom Watson turned back the clock with an immaculate display of links golf on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry to claim the early clubhouse lead in the British Open.
The 59-year-old American carded a five-under 65 in perfect conditions, rolling home a testing par putt on the 18th to cap a superb round. It gave him a six-shot lead over world number one and pre-tournament favorite Tiger Woods who struggled to a one-over 71. Watson, who emerged the winner in the famous ‘duel in the sun’ with fellow legend Jack Nicklaus in the 1977 British Open at Turnberry, was off to a fast start with birdies at the first and third holes. He added two more at the 10th and 12th as his match started to attract a larger gallery. Two fine hits to the edge of the par-five 17th and then an excellent chip and a putt took him to five-under and into the outright lead. Watson had a birdie opportunity on the final hole but it rolled six-foot past and to a roar from the gallery kept his nerve to make sure his round did not include a bogey.
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“I played very well in the practice rounds and felt I had a chance to do very well this week,” Watson told BBC Sport. “The golf course was defenceless without the wind and as a result you will see a lot of scores under par.” Watson was not the only former winner to make an early impression as 49-year-old Mark Calcavecchia, who won at Troon in 1989, was the first man in the clubhouse with a three-under 67 and he was joined on that mark by fellow American veteran Mark O’Meara.
But 54-year-old Australian Greg Norman, who led going into the final round at Royal Birkdale last year, could not recapture that magic as he toiled to a seven-over 77. Woods, who was also an early starter, could not take advantage of benign conditions with a wayward display from tee to green which cost him four bogeys.