SEATTLE—Tom Watson took three practice swings without a club in his hand, then looked toward the green and pictured the shot he needed to play.
Standing on the edge of the fairway, a marshal who had seen Watson work his magic at Turnberry for three decades whispered in his thick Scottish brogue, lost in time as he watched a 59-year-old champion leading the British Open.
Then, shaking his head with a smile, the marshal added, "Fantastic story, aye?"
Watson is turning this British Open into a fairy tale.
Even as he slipped out of the lead Saturday in the testing breeze off the Firth of Clyde, Watson didn't blink except to hold back the occasional tears. He is close enough to the claret jug to believe he can win again.
A 30-foot birdie putt on the 16th gave him a share of the lead.
Then came a hybrid 2-iron that took a bounce to the left and onto the green, setting up another birdie.
When he walked up the 18th fairway, his name atop the massive yellow leaderboard, Watson had a 1-over 71 for a one-shot lead, leaving him 18 holes away from becoming the oldest major champion in history.
Can this really happen?
Even Watson wasn't sure early in the week. Now, the doubts have morphed into determination.
"The first day here, 'Yeah, let the old geezer have his day in the sun,"' Watson said. "The second day you said, 'Well, that's OK.' And now today, you kind of perk up your ears and say, 'This old geezer might have a chance to win the tournament.' I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know one thing, I feel good about what I did today. I feel good about my game plan."
"And who knows?" he said. "It might happen."
He's even got the attention of Jack Nicklaus, whom Watson beat at Turnberry in the famous "Duel in the Sun" in 1977. Nicklaus, who rarely watches golf on television, saw most of the third round from his home in south Florida.
"I had some tears in my eyes," Nicklaus said. "I just really hope he wins."
Watson wouldn't give details of his mysterious "game plan," only that he has figured out how many bogeys he can afford to make, and how many birdies he'll need to make up for any mistakes.
"So far, it's going well," he said.
The plan has put him at 4-under 206, one shot better than Mathew Goggin of Australia and Ross Fisher, who isn't even sure he will make it to the tee Sunday. His wife is expecting their first child, and Fisher said his priority is to be in England for the birth.
Fisher, who birdied two of his last three holes for a 70, was fifth at the U.S. Open last month, his best finish in a major. Imagine if he had been told that only a 59-year-old man would stand between him and the claret jug.