TURNBERRY, Scotland -- Contrary to what you may have been told, the weekend at the Open Championship will proceed as scheduled despite Tiger Woods' premature exit. There will still be golf. There will still be wind. There will still be an assortment of deep-fried delicacies that might kill you on the spot.
But Woods' absence does dramatically alter the landscape, with the focus squarely shifting from one legendary figure's pursuit of history to another's. That Tom Watson is tied for the lead in this Open can be attributed to any number of factors -- experience, a couple of seeing-eye birdie putts, something as nebulous as "fate". As it happens, it's the second consecutive British Open in which Woods has surrendered the stage to a fiftysometing former major champion. But this time it isn't a bum knee that has Woods home this weekend. And this time, Watson makes Greg Norman's run last year seem fairly inconsequential by comparison.
It goes without saying that Watson has an uphill climb in front of him. As Bill Fields, Golf World's encyclopedic features editor writes, history has not smiled kindly upon the occasional senior player who has sought to turn back the clock at a major. And then there are the conditions. The wind is up again this morning, to the point that at 11:20 a.m. local time, the 27 players on the course here were a combined 37-over par. By the time Watson tees off alongside Steve Marino at 3 p.m., it's likely to be even tougher.
Granted, Watson is on the short list of history's all-time foul weather players, but that, presumably, is more a reflection of him at his prime than the present day. As for the players who might stand in his way, take your pick. Mark Calcavecchia (four under) is another graybeard former champion but in this context, the 49-year-old 1989 champion has a rare advantage of youth. the surging Englishman Ross Fisher (three under) has cropped up on the weekend leaderboard for the second time in as many majors. Retief Goosen (three under) is one of the most proficient major players of is generation, and despite never having won one, Miguel Angel Jimenez (three under) actually might not be far behind.
And then there's Marino. There is little in the scruffy 29-year-old's pedigree that suggests he should be a factor much beyond today. But the same thing could have been said about Ben Curtis or Todd Hamilton, or 10 years ago, Paul Lawrie. In this championship, that logic gets tossed out the window -- especially in a week as upside-down as this one.
-- *Sam Weinman *