Lee Westwood was leading the British Open after ten holes of his final round on Sunday but Tom Watson was refusing to throw in the towel in his pursuit of a place in sporting history. Westwood followed a two on the short sixth hole with a majestic eagle on the 538-yard 7th to claim the outright lead, one better than the 59-year-old American, who had three bogeys on his outward nine, and Australian Mathew Goggin.
Less than a year after undergoing hip replacement surgery, Watson had teed off in his final round with a one-shot advantage over Goggin and England's Ross Fisher. He relinquished his lead on the first hole after depositing his approach from the middle of the fairway in a greenside bunker while, up ahead, Fisher had sunk a birdie putt.
A missed par putt from four feet cost Watson another shot at the third while Fisher's dream start continued when he chipped from short of the green for a three at the second.
But the Englishman's round unravelled disastrously when he found rough off the 5th tee. From the right, he needed two hacks to send his ball into an unplayable lie on the opposite side of the fairway, finally carding an eight that, following a four on the short fourth, sent him back to level par.
By the turn, he was two over after an outward nine of 40 shots. Westwood was looking much steadier but a wayward drive on the tenth cost him a five that cut his lead back to a single shot with eight holes to play. Up ahead, Chris Wood, fifth on his Open debut last year, briefly shared the lead before back-to-back bogeys on 13 and 14 dented his challenge while Luke Donald, with a fine 67, set the clubhouse target at level par.
Retief Goosen, who was playing alongside another US Open winner, Jim Furyk, was two shots adrift of Westwood.
Fisher started his round reassured by news from home that wife Jo, who is expecting their first child, was showing no signs of starting her labour. "She's in good shape and so is he," the 28-year-old's manager said.
If Watson can recover to win, he will become the oldest winner of a major by an astonishing margin of 11 years on the course where, 32 years ago, he got the better of Jack Nicklaus in one of the most iconic contests in sporting history, the Duel in the Sun.
A sixth Open win would also match the record tally of Harry Vardon and eclipse five-times winners James Braid, J.H. Taylor and Peter Thomson. Like Watson, Vardon won in three different decades but the 18-year gap between his first win, in 1896, and his last, in 1914, would be put in the shade by the 34 years separating this year's Open from Watson's first, winning appearance, at Carnoustie in 1975.