Watson 'home' again in British Open at 67

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- From one end of the golf spectrum to the other, the first round of the 124th British Open provided something for everyone yesterday.

It ranged from a sublime story line to a frightful spectacle -- from Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, John Daly and Mark McNulty all going around the Old Course in 67 strokes to Jack Nicklaus taking a 10 on one hole.

There have been wilder rounds in the 124-year history of the Open, but not many. Watson, 45; Crenshaw, 43; McNulty, 41; and Daly, 29, are an unusual quartet of leaders at 5-under par.

Three older guys and a good old boy on the Old Course? Why not? The ball takes funny bounces over here, something to which Nicklaus can eminently attest.

First things first. The day even began on a crazy note. Watson hooked his opening tee shot almost into the 18th fairway, hooked his second shot with a 7-iron just over the Swilcan Burn and 70 feet from the hole, and then slam-dunked the putt for birdie.

"Pretty nice start," Watson deadpanned. It foreshadowed a pretty nice finish, though. He went on to shoot his lowest first round in 21 Open appearances, getting five birdies and an eagle.

All of a sudden, here we go again. The sky is gray, the wind is up, the golf is on the links and Watson is tied for the lead in the British Open.

"I played some pretty good golf coming in," he said. "It's always nice to get back to the Open Championship. I love links golf and playing the kind of shots that it demands."

Some people get sand in their shoes. Watson gets sod -- old sod. The five-time British Open champion hasn't won a golf tournament since 1987 and he hasn't won a major championship since the 1983 British Open. But he is again in contention here, just as he was last year, when he made the leader board in all four majors.

Watson is striking the ball purely, putting it pretty well on the slower greens and may be able to avoid the one bad round that knocked him out of contention in each of last year's Grand Slam events.

Three final-round 74s cost him opportunities at the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, and the most agonizing of those was the last round at Turnberry, where he had consecutive double bogeys on the front nine.

How he holds up is still to be determined, but in the meantime there are plenty of other possibilities. Crenshaw, the historian and Masters champion, would be a perfect fit at the Old Course.

Daly figures he can drive the green on six of the par-4 holes, did it on one yesterday (the 316-yard 12th) and will try to arm-wrestle the place into submission.

Lurking a stroke behind are Vijay Singh, Bill Glasson, Mats Hallberg and David Feherty, the native of Northern Ireland who has struggled since coming to the United States to play the PGA Tour full time.

In a group of nine players at 69 is Corey Pavin, whose reputation and confidence have been enlarged by his U.S. Open victory last month.

And then there was Ian Baker-Finch, the struggling Aussie who won this title in 1991. His re-emergence in the spotlight yesterday as one of Arnold Palmer's playing partners was not a pretty sight.

As he was hitting his first tee shot, a gust of wind came up, blew off his visor, rerouted his club and he hit his drive left of left, across the 18th fairway, over Links Road and nearly into the lobby of a hotel.

It was a day that underscored the capricious nature of the game. Palmer, who was hoping to play well in his final British Open, struggled to an 83, the highest round of the day.

Nick Faldo, who was as well-prepared for this Open as he has been for any, shot a 74 and has a long road back.

But with all of the cruelty going on, 59 players still broke par and 25 matched it. Greg Norman, sore back and all, managed to shoot 71.

What a day at the Old Course. And it was only the first act.

BRITISH OPEN

The leaders . . .

John Daly ....... 34-33-67

Tom Watson ...... 36-31-67

Ben Crenshaw .... 33-34-67

Mark McNulty .... 33-34-67

. . . and selected followers

Mats Hallberg .. 36-32-68

Bill Glasson ... 34-34-68

Greg Norman .... 34-37-71

Nick Faldo ..... 37-37-74

Jack Nicklaus .. 37-41-78

Arnold Palmer .. 42-41-83

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