No American has dominated British links courses like Tom Watson. This week the 62-year-old Watson returns to the land that invented the grand game of golf and where he is revered as much as any golfer, past or present, who have ever played in what is now called simply The Open Championship.
The legendary pro golfer, who makes his home in the countryside south of his native Kansas City, has won 39 PGA Tour events and 14 titles on the Champions Tour competing with the older pros, in his nearly four decades as a touring professional. Watson has won a total of 70 times as a professional, and eight of those wins have come at British Open Championship: five times on the PGA Tour (1975, '77. '80, '82 and '83) and three more Senior British Open Championships (2003, '05, '07).
That puts the elder Watson seven up on the younger rising star of the same name (but no relation), Bubba, who has one major championship to his credit (at this year's Masters) and has fewer career PGA wins than Tom Watson has British Open titles.
Both players are in the field this week as the Royal Lytham and St. Annes hosts the 2012 Open Championship. For Tom, whose five British Open titles have him tied for second, just one win less than the late, great Harry Vardon, whose six wins are the most in British Open history, which spans three centuries.
This will be Tom Watson's 38th appearance in the British Open. He won the first of his five British Opens in his very first try, in 1975 and recorded all five of his championships in his first 11 appearances. Watson tied for 22nd with a one-over 281, 11 shots back of winner Roger Chapman at the U.S. Senior Open last weekend in Lake Orion, Mich., outside of Detroit. He feels good about his game, but has some concerns right now about his inconsistent iron play.
"Sometimes your body can't go," Watson told reporters covering last week's U.S. Senior Open. "I'm wondering if my poor iron play isn't the result of either a lack of conditioning or an injury (He has been battling a tender wrist) or just a bad swing. That throws some doubt in your mind. Any time you have any doubt this game can eat you up.
"We play this game on a thin edge a lot of times, where its between being confident and not being confident," he continued. "And whenever you let that doubt in there it takes you below that edge."
The British Open has been played at Royal Lytham 10 times and is a course on which Watson has never won. His prior victories are at Carnoustie (1975), Turnberry (1977), Muirfield (1980), Troon (1982) and Royal Birkdale (1983). He almost won for a second time at Turnberry, three years ago, when he held the lead in the final round but lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink after missing a short put at the 72nd hole that would have secured his sixth British Open crown and tied him in victories with Vardon. Watson was 59 then, and had he held on to win at Turnberry in 2009, he would have become the oldest golfer to win a major championship (not counting senior championships).
Watson is three years older this summer, and he still possesses the dream and desire (although his body might argue with him) to win another major, especially across the Atlantic in the home of golf, where he has recorded some of his greatest triumphs. His playing partners on Thursday and Friday are Martin Kaymer and 20-year-old Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa.
Watson and Ishikawa were paired together two years ago at St. Andrews, and the Japanese youngster is thrilled for the second opportunity to play alongside the five-time British Open champion. "I've got more experience in the last two years so I want to show Tom how I play now," Ishikawa said in an interview with Reuters on the eve of this year's Championship. "it was a great experience for me two years ago at St. Andrews (when he was 18-years-old).
Watson was impressed the last time he saw the then-teenage Japanese star. "He's got it," Watson said back in 2010.
Only one American has won the Open Championship in the last five years. That was Cink's playoff victory over Watson. Among the American entries in the 2012 Open field, the elder statesman Watson likes Rickie Fowler's chances the best.
"I like Rickie Fowler's ability from watching him last year," Watson said. "It was tough conditions at Royal St. Georges, and his imagination and ability to move the ball (what the pros call "shaping" the ball) in heavy wind conditions was great. I think from the (young American) players, he has a real good chance of winning multiple Open Championships."
Watson said the most important thing that came out of the near-miss at Turnberry in 2009 was the overwhelming response he got from the fans, not just in Scotland but from all over the world. "It really brought to light for many people that age is just a number."
After The Open Championship this week at Royal Lytham, Watson will move on to Turnberry, his most favorite of The Open courses, for the British Senior Open. "I believe I've played it (Turnberry) more than any of the other players in the field. I hope my game is in shape when I get there."
Watson is hoping for a better result than the last time he played at Royal Lytham. He shot rounds of 74 and 78 and failed to make the weekend cut in the 2001 British Open.
Follow the leaderboard and all the action in the 2012 Open Championship at Theopen.com.