Watson wins his latest battle with Mother Nature
SANDWICH, England -- As a bad-weather day in the British Open, Saturday's third round at Royal St. George's, while wet and windy, doesn't win a prize, not even for Opens on the Kent course. In 1938, after all, the exhibition tent was shredded by the wind on the final day, when only seven golfers broke 80 and the winner, Reg Whitcombe, closed with a 78.
Not that Saturday's conditions, particularly for early starters, were easy. Five-time Open champion Tom Watson teed off at 10:30 a.m. and at times dealt with what he termed a "five-club wind." Given Watson's track record in trying conditions, and his affinity for them, it was no surprise -- even age 61 -- that he handled the miserable day nicely and shot a two-over 72 to finish 54 holes at four-over 214. When he finished, Watson had tied Trevor Immelman for the day's lowest score.
"It was very good for me, and I'm grateful for that," Watson said. "I managed to get around with my putter. My putter was spot-on today. It was a great day on the greens for me. I just had that feel for some reason. I hope it continues tomorrow."
As for how taxing Saturday's conditions were, Watson said they definitely lagged behind the first round at Muirfield in 1980 or the third round at Muirfield in 2002. (He won the former largely on the strength of an opening 68.) Still, Watson couldn't reach the par-4 fourth hole despite hitting a driver for his second shot. "I was hoping I'd get 210 [yards]," he said. "It went about 180."
(Related: Watson makes magic with Friday hole-in-one)
The round provided a classic example of an elite, veteran golfer keeping his wits about him and not trying to force things.
"There's an old saying, 'Swing with ease into the breeze,' " Watson said. "A lot of times you can see these young kids out there trying to hit it really hard into the wind. That doesn't flight the ball into the wind very well. You can flight it by swinging it a little bit easier, and that will take the height off the ball. In my case, I can't hit it hard, so the ball is flighted naturally. So it's good in conditions like this."
(Related: Watson on what he learned from Turnberry)
Watson smiled a bit as he said that, well aware of the cagy advantage he owns but realistic to know that he needs to drive the ball better Sunday. "It could have been a 77 really easily if my putter didn't act like it did today," he said. "[These type conditions] can tear you up. It can tear you up and spit you out. It's done it to me."
One more time, however, Watson had at least broken even with Mother Nature, surviving to put on his rainsuit another day.
"The challenge of dealing with conditions on a course like this, you know, it's fun," Watson said. "This is a game, and it's fun to be able to hit a few shots that are really good."
-- Bill Fields