By David Ferguson
As Tom Watson arrived on the 16th tee in the second round of The Open at Turnberry, it seemed that there was an outside chance that he might finish on two-under and find himself in a Saturday pairing with fellow-American JB Holmes, thus providing endless opportunities for lame jokes to me and my fellow media pundits.
But 59-year young Tom had other ideas. He pulled out a birdie on the intimidating 16th, and then produced a moment of almost absurd drama on the final green with an immense 75-foot putt for another. That gave him a round of level-par for the day and a tie for the lead at five-under with yet another American, Steve Marino.
He greeted the feat with a high kick that his playing partner, the 16-year old Italian amateur Matheo Manassero, would have been happy to emulate. Manassero had hung back with admirable courtesy to allow Watson to take the applause of the gallery as he arrived on the green.
Sergio Garcia, his Latin temperament unwilling to concede the advantage to anyone in the honor stakes, had hung even further back to allow his two playing partners, the youngest and the oldest competitors in the field, to enjoy their moment.
It was a generous and considerate gesture, and it is pleasing to record that all three players comfortably made the cut and will continue to delight the spectators over the weekend, Garcia from 14th place at one-under and Manassero from two strokes further back at one-over. In making the cut Manassero has already assured himself of the silver medal for best amateur. The only other amateur in the field, Stephan Gross of Germany, fell well short of the mark.
In the media interview following his first-round 65, Watson was asked whether he thought there might be the possibility of a tournament record low-score. Although Tom treated the question politely, in truth it was a silly one. Given the unpredictable weather that was forecast, and the totally different challenge that a links course can pose from one hour to the next, no-one could possibly make any sensible prediction as to the final winning total after the first round.
But the old lady must have heard, and she must have been suitably miffed. The first three players to venture out on the course at 6.30 on Friday morning – Damien McGrane, Tim Stewart, and Matt Kuchar – returned to the clubhouse with a combined tournament total of plus-29 to their names.
The second round started in conditions that were as bad as the Thursday evening ones had been pleasant. The wind was blowing a gusty breeze, and huge banks of black clouds were rolling in from the east. These were being turned at the coastline, which meant that there was only intermittent rain on the course, while only just inland torrential showers were falling. But it was cold as well as damp – typical miserable Scottish golfing weather.
Only 4 of the first 21 players out on Friday morning would go on to make the cut. One of those who did not came from among the first-round leaders, former tournament-winner Ben Curtis, who followed his first round 65 with a second round of 80 to finish on five-over and miss the cut by a single stroke.
All of this served to make Steve Marino's two-under 68 that much more praiseworthy. It gave him a clubhouse lead that lasted until around six in the evening, when Tom Watson produced the goods on the 18th green.