Tom Watson may be 21 years older than the combined ages of his US Open playing partners today but Rory McIlroy believes the veteran American still has the game to be a contender at Pebble Beach this week.
Ireland’s McIlroy, 21, and Japan’s 18-year-old rising star Ryo Ishikawa will join 60-year-old Watson on the 10th tee of the famous California links as the eight-time major winner returns to the scene of his 1982 US Open success.
Given the elder statesman’s near miss at the 2009 Open at Turnberry, when he lost a play-off to Stewart Cink, his top-20 finish at the Masters this year and the nature of the course, McIlroy sees no reason why Watson cannot compete with the favourites.
“He had a great chance to win at Turnberry and Pebble Beach isn’t the longest of US Open venues,” McIlroy said last night.
“It’s definitely not going to be playing that long this week because it’s so firm. So length won’t be an issue for him.
“The last year or so he’s played fantastically. He’s made the cut at the Masters this year and played in Dubai (Desert Classic) at the start of the year and finished top-10.
“Coming into this week he’s still a great player and I’m sure that he thinks that he has a chance to win. That’s why he’s playing.
“It would be great to see him play well over the first couple of days, especially as I’m in the same group.”
McIlroy, who won his first PGA Tour event last month at the Quail Hollow Championship, said he was delighted with his group.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I played nine holes with Tom at the Masters this year in a practice round and he still hits it as good as anyone out here.
“I think it will be a nice two days. It’s definitely a good draw for me, it should help me relax a little bit.
“Tom’s won around here and I might pick up a few things that I can bring into the weekend, you never know.”
Watson later praised McIlroy’s “great combination of strength and touch” and “very solid” golf swing.
“He gets what this game is all about,” Watson said. “He gets how to do things out here. He’s got a great future ahead of him.”
For the first two rounds at Pebble Beach though, Watson jokingly warned: “Old age and treachery can sometimes win out over youth and experience.”