Watson's Turnberry edge negated this time around

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In 2009, Tom Watson had more course knowledge than anyone else in the British Open field.
July 25, 2012
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

When Tom Watson, then 59, nearly pulled off the improbable three years ago at Turnberry, he approached the British Open knowing he had one advantage over golfers much younger than himself. He had played Turnberry often and regularly over the years. He knew the lines, the angles, where to go and how to get there.


Will he have the same advantage this week at the Senior British Open on the Ailsa Course?

"There will be more players who have played at Turnberry," Watson said. "Quality players that played. (Bernhard) Langer, people like him. I did have an advantage from the standpoint of knowing the golf course and how it was going to play in 2009, playing against the kids. None of those kids had ever played Turnberry before. First time for them. And the wind changed, and I knew it was going to change."

The south winds swept through Turnberry, on Scotland's west coast, during the practice rounds in 2009. Watson suspected a change was coming that would mean a "completely different golf course." His game plan factored in the forecast. He knew what a good start on a windless opening day would mean.

"If I could stay in there on par, I can win this tournament," Watson said. "That was my thought process. My past experiences helped me there. They certainly did. As they always do."

Watson lost a playoff to Stewart Cink, but once again had displayed his greatness on links courses and the unpredictability they bring to the game.

The Senior British Open, the fifth and final major of the Champions Tour season, returns to the Ailsa Course this week. Unpredictability has been the operative during this Champions Tour major championship season. It started with Roger Chapman, a self-described journeyman, winning the Senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor, Mich.

Tom Lehman, the defending Charles Schwab Cup champion and one of the Champions Tour's leading players, restored some semblance of order by winning the Regions Tradition before the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship produced another surprise winner in Joe Daley. Two weeks ago, with the Champions Tour back in Michigan for the U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf and Country Club, Chapman again stepped up to win the U.S. Senior Open.

Chapman is second behind Lehman in the Charles Schwab Cup points list but two majors in a season definitely give him a shot at Champions Tour Player of the Year honors. Chapman will try to join Jack Nicklaus as the only Champions Tour player to claim three major titles in a season. Nicklaus accomplished the feat in 1991 when he won The Tradition at Desert Mountain, the PGA Senior Championship and the U.S. Senior Open.


Watson and Mark Calcavecchia arrived at Turnberry in good spirits and their games in fine form. Both made the cut at Royal Lytham. Calcavecchia is on the list of serious contenders at Turnberry. The 52-year-old posted a remarkable finish at Royal Lytham and St. Annes at the Open Championship won by Ernie Els. Calc shot even par 280 and tied for ninth.

"It's a good accomplishment," Calcavecchia said. "I enjoyed myself."

Calcavecchia is another who is counting on his experiences and affection for Scottish golf courses kicking in this week. He won the Claret Jug in 1989 at Royal Troon, a 24-mile trip up the A77 from Turnberry.

"I love Turnberry," Calcavecchia said. "It's one of my favorite courses over here. Probably second favorite right behind Troon, to tell you the truth. I'm really looking forward to that. I had a pretty good tournament there a few years ago, might have finished 20th, 20-something. I do like the course. I'm looking forward to it. It's been a good place for me."

Calcavecchia and Watson tied for 11th in the 1994 Open Championship on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry on 286. In 2009, Calc tied for 27th at Turnberry.

In 1977, Watson won the historic duel against Jack Nicklaus on the Ailsa Course. In four British Opens at Turnberry, Watson has three top 11 finishes. In 1986, he tied for 35th. It was also at Turnberry in 2005 that Watson won the first of his three Senior British titles.

"I have a really good feeling about my putting for the first time in years," Watson said during the British Open. "It's something that I came upon in the practice round, practiced for a couple of hours on Tuesday and going with something. It opens the doors of me making a lot of putts again. That's exciting for me."

Calcavecchia also putted very well at Royal Lytham but, obviously, that's not all he did well. It helped him achieve a main goal.

"I wanted to play all four days here, and not have to sit around until Thursday over at Turnberry," he said.

That wasn't a problem. Calcavecchia finished what he started at Royal Lytham and had plenty of fun doing it, never once thinking about his age and how that restricted his opportunities. Calcavecchia is in his element on British Open venues, whether it's for the young guys ... or the Senior British.

Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR. He can be reached at [golfstix@aol.com]