Watson: I wish I was playing as well as I was last year

TOM WATSON could spend the rest of his life going on trips down memory lane.

But this week at St Andrews is not one of them — he is here to try to win the Open again.

“God, I hope a 60-year-old guy can do that. That would be pretty cool.”

Those were the five-time winner’s words yesterday on the eve — a very wet and very windy eve which even forced the four-hole Champions Challenge to be cancelled — of what will be his seventh Open at the Home of Golf and his 33rd in all.

Such a victory would have sounded ridiculous two years ago. Then Greg Norman, 53 at the time, led with nine holes to play at Royal Birkdale.

And then last July at Turnberry Watson was one nine-foot putt away from arguably the greatest sports story ever told.

For the time being his fellow American Julius Boros, who won the 1968 US PGA at the age of 48, remains the oldest major champion of all time.

But Watson is not ready yet to call off his bid to rewrite the record books and to join Harry Vardon, the only man to lift the Claret Jug six times.

“I never think about my history in the Open,” he said. “What I think about is I’m still here as a competitor to try to play the golf course the best I can and that’s what I’m doing.

“I wish I was playing as well as I was last year coming in here. I’m putting well, but I’m not striking the ball that well, so that concerns me, especially in the wind.

“Frankly that’s where I am right now. It’s no different than what it was, except I’ve got an artificial hip, I’m a little stiffer and don’t hit the ball as far.

“But I do have a little more experience under my belt.”

Even if he does not do it this Sunday Watson is exempt for four more years under a rule introduced because of his performance 12 months ago.

And another top 10 finish would extend that further and even allow him to return to the Old Course again if the venue is chosen to host the 2015 championship.

“I don’t know how my body is going to be in five years. I can’t predict. I think that the extent of my exemption goes to 2014 at Hoylake — I think that’s where it (his farewell) would be.”

Anyone believing that Turnberry was the last hurrah for one of the true legends of the game has been forced to think again this season.

In February Watson came eighth at the Dubai Desert Classic. In April he started The Masters — a monster test now — with a 67 and finished 18th. And only last month he was 29th in the US Open at Pebble Beach.

This week has already been notable after he, Arnold Palmer and Pádraig Harrington were awarded honorary doctorates at St Andrews University.

“It was a wonderful ceremony. It was done in great spirit and I’m honoured and humbled to be a part of it, I really am.”

Not one of Watson’s five triumphs came at St Andrews, though. The closest he came was when he lost by two in 1984, bogeying the Road Hole 17th just as Seve Ballesteros was making birdie at the 18th. The Spaniard was 27 then, Watson 34.


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