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July 17, 2009

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Stunning Watson sets early pace at Turnberry

THIRTY-TWO years after his epic "Duel in the Sun" with Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson took advantage of pristine conditions at the British Open to shoot a stunning five-under 65 yesterday.

"Not bad for an almost 60-year-old," said Watson, who turns 60 in September. "Obviously I enjoyed it. I played very well, kept the ball in play, made a few putts. The course was defenseless today. As a result, you're seeing a lot of scores under par. I suspect by the end of the day, 65 will not be in the lead."

At least he didn't have to worry about Tiger Woods. On a day for going low, the world's No. 1 player struggled to a 71 at Turnberry, Scotland, hitting one wayward shot after another - including a dunk in Wilson's Burn, which led to the last of his four bogeys at No. 16.

When the round ended, Woods headed back to the range to work on his swing, which looked downright ugly with his right hand flying off the club. His first signs of frustration emerged at No. 3, when he took an angry swipe and mumbled something under his breath. By the time the day was done, the American had angrily tossed away his clubs several times.

Woods' score was especially disappointing given the conditions at Turnberry: partly sunny, no rain and barely the hint of a breeze off the Irish Sea.

The Open keeps bringing out the best in the old-timers. Last year, Greg Norman was 53 when he held the 54-hole lead at Birkdale, only to fade on the final day.

Watson still has three rounds to go, and the history of major championship golf is filled with opening-day leaders who fell out of contention by the weekend.

But those first 18 holes sure were fun - and not as surprising to Watson as they were to everyone else.

"I haven't reassessed (expectations) at all," he said. "I was playing well in the practice rounds, and I felt I would play very well this week."

Watson, a five-time Open champion, posted his lowest score in the tournament since a second-round 65 in 1994 - the last time it was held at Turnberry. A year ago, he shot 74-76 at Birkdale and missed the cut.

Watson posted five birdies and made a couple of testy par saves, including a six-footer at the final hole, to ensure his name would be all alone atop the leaderboard, at least for a while.

With red numbers there for the taking, Americans Stewart Cink and Steve Stricker, Australia's John Senden and Mathew Goggin, and Camilo Villegas of Colombia put up 66s. The 1989 Open champion, Mark Calcavecchia, went out in the first group of the day with his wife on the bag and shot 67. Also at 67 were 1998 Open champion Mark O'Meara, who now plays on the Champions Tour, and three-time major champion Vijay Singh.

Seventeen-year-old Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa and Lee Westwood both shot 68 playing with Woods.

An alternate

Senden didn't even know if he'd be playing this week. He got into the tournament on Tuesday as an alternate when India's Jeev Milkha Singh withdrew with an injury. The Aussie stayed away from bogey and birdied four of the last six holes for a 66.

"I was lucky enough to be in the field, so that was a bonus," Senden said.

Liang Wenchong's campaign suffered an early setback when the China No. 1 posted a seven-over 77.

Liang, who enjoyed a slice of history when he became the first Chinese to play in all four rounds at the Open last year, will have to do much better in the second round if he hopes to repeat that feat.


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