OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. - At age 53, Tom Watson is supposed to be thinking about the upcoming U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club.
Turns out he has a different Open in mind. One without the word senior in the title.
Watson, the 1982 champion who is playing in his 30th U.S. Open, matched his lowest-ever round in this event with a 65 yesterday at Olympia Fields and is tied for the lead with Brett Quigley at 5-under.
In one of those magical moments that only golf can provide, one of the game's elder statesmen birdied two straight holes down the stretch, the first on a putt that tantalizingly hung on the lip before dropping, and then scrambled for par out of a greenside bunker at his final hole, No. 9, to cap the amazing day.
“Will wonders never cease?'' Watson said, laughing.
He will forever be remembered for his improbable chip-in on the 71st hole at Pebble Beach that produced the '82 title.
But he said he will forever remember yesterday, not simply for himself, but for caddie Bruce Edwards, who has been on his bag for most of the last three decades but is now suffering with Lou Gehrig's Disease, for which there is no cure.
“I didn't start to get emotional until Bruce did,'' Watson said. “The last few holes, there were quite a few tears by both of us. This is my favorite tournament, the toughest tournament in the world to win. To have a round like that at age 53 alongside my friend and caddie of 30 years is quite a memory. If I shoot 90 tomorrow, I don't care.''
Ironically, Watson's 65 came on the same course where he played as an amateur in his first PGA Tour event, the 1968 Western Open.
“I've come full circle, I guess,'' he said, “from my first professional tournament to maybe my last National Open. You never know. I'm very grateful for the exemption I got to play here this year, but it will probably be my last. The only way I'd likely play in an Open again is to win the Senior Open.''
After opening with a bogey and then scrambling for a par, Watson eagled his third hole of the day, No. 12, when he holed his 6-iron from 171 yards.
“That completely changed my round,'' he said. “I felt like I was back in control.''
IRWIN HURT: Hale Irwin, who counts the '79 Open at Inverness Club among his three titles in this event, withdrew yesterday after being taken off the course on a stretcher because of back spasms. He aggravated the injury on his tee shot at No. 12. He had just birdied the 11th hole and was 1-over.
“I've got to take some time, I guess, and give this a rest,'' he said. “We'll see next week about playing in the Senior Open at Inverness [June 26-29].''
WOODS' AIM OFF: Tiger Woods said he tried not to fire at the pins in the first round of the U.S. Open, pins which were tucked really tight.
That cautious approach is one of the reasons Woods, the defending Open champion, finished at par 70 and is five shots off the lead shared by Tom Watson and Brett Quigley at Olympia Fields Country Club
“I fired away at just about every flag,” Woods said. “In 18 holes, I had only two realistic looks at birdies, Nos. 16 and 17, and I missed them both.”
Even when Woods eagled the 555-yard sixth hole, hitting a 3-iron from 237 yards to 18 feet, he wasn't interested in firing at the pin.
“I had 237 to the front, that's all I was concerned about,” Woods said.
“I don't even know how far it was to the flag. I just wanted to carry it to the front edge. I didn't want to shoot at the flag, trust me.”