Rain-lashed Royal St George's was really no place for 60-somethings on Saturday yet American Tom Watson produced a masterful display in diabolical weather to lift the gloom in the third round of the British Open.
The 61-year-old five-times champion braved fierce winds and horizontal rain to card a remarkable two-over-par 72 on a day of damage-limitation on the 7,211-yard links layout.
On a day when birdies were like gold-dust, overnight leader Darren Clarke raised some roars from the huddled galleries lining the first green when he rolled in a putt to move into the outright lead at five under par.American Dustin Johnson also began well as the weather abated slightly, moving to three under alongside Thomas Bjorn after two birdies in his opening seven holes. It was a saturated Watson who stole the show again though after his hole-in-one at the sixth on Friday.
This time it was not spectacular but he dug deep into his vast experience of coastal golf to reach the turn in one-under and despite four bogeys on the inward nine in gusts of 40mph he remains in contention at four over going into the final round.
“It can tear you up. It can tear you up and spit you out. It's done it to me,” Watson said, who two years ago came agonisingly close to winning at Turnberry. “One of the things that you learn is there's an old saying, ‘swing with ease into the breeze.’
“In my case I can't hit it hard. I mean, I'm 61-years old; I can't swing hard, so the ball is flighted naturally. So it's good in conditions like this.”
Of the early starters among the 71 who survived until the weekend, South Africa's Trevor Immelman was the only other player to match Watson's score. The pair shared the clubhouse lead as bedraggled players returned to the scorers' hut with tales of woe. None more so than Frenchman Gregory Havret, the 2010 U.S. Open runner-up, who was hanging in bravely until a calamitous 10 at the brutal par-five 14th.
“It's a tough course even without these conditions and today was just a nightmare for us but that's the way it is, it's the British Open,” said the 34-year-old who still carded a reasonably respectable 78.