British victory will give Watson another decade

Jul 18, 2009 - 10:46 PM By DOUG FERGUSON AP Golf Writer

TURNBERRY, Scotland(AP) -- Tom Watson arrived at Turnberry knowing that his time at the British Open was running out. A recent change in the criteria meant former champions could no longer compete when they were older than 60.

Then again, a victory by the 59-year-old Watson would change that.

The age limit has been getting more attention as Watson has stayed atop the leaderboard this week at Turnberry, particularly given the nature of links golf that doesn't always require power to compete.

Watson prodded reporters by deferring questions to Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson.

Then came an announcement Saturday night that began "A point of clarification."

Turns out the Open exempts champions for 10 years, although it is listed this year only as champions from 1999-2008. R&A spokesman Malcolm Booth said that criteria still applies, no matter how old the champion is.

Watson, a two-time Masters champion, can play at Augusta National as long as he wants, but it likely won't be much longer. That course now is too long for him - Watson shot 74-83 this year.

"I don't want to be a ceremonial golfer," Watson said. "When Peter Dawson called me to tell me about the 60-year age limit for the tournament, I said, 'Peter, I think that's a sensible decision.' You've got to let the younger kids play."

Even so, the British Open is different.

"Being a ceremonial golfer is when you feel like you can't compete," Watson said earlier this week. "I'm a ceremonial golfer at Augusta, I can tell you that. I can still beat this golf course somehow."

The British Open returns next year to St. Andrews, the only course in Scotland where Watson has not won.


WATSON'S CADDIE: Tiger Woods has a caddie who races cars. Tom Watson has one who runs political races.

Neil Oxman estimates he's run 650 campaigns over the years through his Philadelphia company, the Campaign Group. In his spare time, "Ox" travels around carrying Watson's bag in various tournaments.

"We just have history together," said Oxman, who was a good friend of Bruce Edwards, the longtime caddie for Watson who died of Lou Gehrig's disease in 2004.

Oxman gained his caddie credentials working for various PGA Tour players to pay his way through college. He has been on the bag for Watson in about 50 tournaments and is in the first week of a summer run that will include the Senior British Open and the Senior U.S. Open.

He and Watson aren't close in political philosophy - he runs Democratic campaigns and Watson has conservative Republican views - but they are close both on the course and off. On Saturday, they shed a tear together walking up to the 18th green when Watson told him that Edwards was watching over them.

Oxman didn't expect to be carrying the bag in the final group on Sunday in the Open, but he expects Watson to perform well under the pressure.

"He's just very good at managing himself in links golf," Oxman said. "He thinks his way around the golf course."


BRYCE WAS RIGHT: Bryce Molder was on the verge of missing the cut Friday afternoon, one shot over the limit until making a 20-foot birdie on the 16th hole, then adding a birdie on the par-5 17th to make it with one shot to spare.

This was his first trip to the British Open, and Molder had every reason to be satisfied with playing all four days.

Apparently, he wasn't.

A 3-iron into 30 feet for birdie on the eighth hole turned him around, and he went on to the low score of the third round, a 3-under 67 that kept moving up the leaderboard. By the end of the day, Molder was tied for eighth at even-par 210, only four shots behind.

All he knew when he left the course was that he would be sleeping later and facing more nerves.

At least he's had some experience with the latter. Molder finished fourth at Congressional and was a runner-up in Memphis, two tournament that enabled him to qualify for the British Open.

Saturday's round was the 23rd time in his last 25 rounds that he has shot par or better.


WESTWOOD'S FOCUS: Lee Westwood got a taste of what it was like to play under increased scrutiny when he was paired with Tiger Woods and Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa in the first two rounds of the British Open.

He found out he liked it.

"It was a good atmosphere playing out there with those two guys," Westwood said. "They were great to play with. Unfortunately they didn't play as well as they probably would have liked. But it was a good grouping to be in the first couple of days."

Westwood found things had changed when he went to the first tee Saturday. There were only about five photographers there, not the dozens that trailed his pairing the first two days.

"I thought they were there for me, but obviously not," he said.

Westwood, who will play with Ross Fisher in the next-to-last group Sunday, said being paired with Woods and Ishikawa helped him get on the leaderboard.

"There was so much going on I needed to have almost 110 percent concentration, rather than the usual 100 percent," he said.


ELEMENTARY, DEAR HARRINGTON: Padraig Harrington has been working all year on retooling his swing, even though he won two majors last year, including a second successive British Open.

He feels as if he's not working, he's not improving.

He won't be winning a third claret jug after a 76 in the third round put 13 shots out of the lead.

Tom Watson, the 54-hole leader at age 59, said one reason he can still compete is because of a long swing. And he believes that's what is hurting Harrington.

"When I was a kid, my dad said, 'Shorten the swing, shorten the swing.' Well, you shorten the swing, it's hard to go longer once you shorten the swing," Watson said. "And my old pro, Stan Thirsk, he said to me, 'Don't listen to your dad.' When you get to be an old guy, that long swing will really do you well, because you'll have that rhythm.

"I look at Padraig Harrington right now, he shortened his swing, and I think he's having troubles because of it," Watson said. "I liked the length of the swing last year, and now he's shortened the swing and he's having a hard time with it. You lose your rhythm when you shorten the swing."


DIVOTS: Tom Watson was asked if he was the George Foreman of golf, a reference to become an ancient champion. "No, I don't name all my kids 'George.' My kids have different names," he said. ... In another sign of the times, Watson was talking about the amount of text messages he has received this week when he stopped and shook his head. "Isn't it amazing?" he said. "In 1975, there were about 15 press people after I won in the playoff. Here we are talking about text messages in 2009."

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!