Turnberry’s adopted son Tom Watson signed for a solid one under par 69 on his return to the Ailsa Course, as he came out on top in his three-ball with Greg Norman and Roger Chapman in the opening round of The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex.
Returning to Turnberry for his first competitive round on the famous links since nearly winning The 2009 Open Championship at the age of 59, Watson provided enough evidence that he could yet mount another memorable charge this week.
Watson played alongside Norman, winner of the 1986 Open Championship, and Chapman, winner of both the US Senior PGA Championship and US Senior Open, who both carded two over par rounds of 72.
Even though three and a half decades have now passed since Watson’s famous ‘Duel in the Sun’ with Jack Nicklaus at The 1977 Open Championship, an iconic golfing memory that was this week permanently commemorated in the form of a plaque on the Ailsa Course’s 18th fairway, the American has lost none of his love for the renowned Turnberry layout.
“I love playing at Turnberry,” he said. “But in the end I'm out there to compete and play the course. You use past experiences of how you played the course, past shots etc. but I don't go around thinking about what's happened here in the past when I'm trying to compete and shoot a score.”
Watson was solid if unspectacular en route to his 69, five shots shy of early leader, Germany’s Bernhard Langer, making two good birdies either side of the turn with one dropped shot coming at the par four 13th.
He continued: “It's a good start. The golf course was there for the taking if you play some good shots and I played a good front nine. I got sloppy on the back nine but the front nine I played pretty well and I was happy with the way I started.
“The winds are obviously down and Turnberry was somewhat defenseless today. But the winds will kick up, they will get there and it will show its teeth.”
The eight-time Major Champion’s association with Turnberry is of course one of golfing legend.
Twenty-six years after his success at the 1977 Open Championship, Watson claimed his first Senior Open Championship on the Ailsa Course in 2003, before narrowly missing out on what would have been a fairy tale Open Championship victory when he was defeated in a play-off by compatriot Stewart Cink at the same venue in 2009.
But despite all the happy memories that come with a return to Watson’s spiritual home in the south-west of Scotland, the 62 year old admitted to some worries about the state of his game following the first round.
“I am concerned about the way I'm playing,” he reflected. “If I'm not hitting the ball very solidly and putting the ball on the clubface then you don't get the right distances. If you don't get the right distances, you're always going to be struggling trying to make pars.
“The three things that don't last: Dogs chasing cars, pros playing for pars, and caddies that think they are stars. And pros playing for pars is part of that thing. That's an old Trevinoism.
“If you don’t know your distances then you don't have a chance and the wind only exacerbates that. A day like today, you kind of get away with some wayward shots, but when the wind comes up, you'd better be playing solid golf.”
Watson’s was undoubtedly the marquee group of the day. The Kansas native teed off at 09.50 on Thursday morning with 2012 senior sensation Chapman – winner of the last two Senior Majors already this year – and two-times Open Champion Norman, and unsurprisingly there were appreciative crowds tracking the threesome around the Ayrshire Coast course.
Chapman revealed, however, after signing for a two over par 72, that he had been close to withdrawing from the competition through injury on Thursday morning.
“I was probably about five minutes from pulling out this morning with a stiff neck, but decided to have a go,” Chapman said. “It was very sore this morning. I don't know what happened; I went bed feeling fine, woke up this morning and just couldn't really move my neck and couldn't hit any shots on the range.
“So I went to the physio, saw Patrick in there and he manipulated my back a bit and it was all knotted. I had a great night's sleep as well so it’s just unfortunate. So in the end I sort of hung in there, made 72, and I certainly would have taken that standing on the first tee.”
There were also first tee nerves, the 53 year old admitted, but Chapman said that despite the pain it was an experience to remember, as he attested after an up-and-down day that included four birdies but six bogeys.
“There were some nerves, I mean I was playing with two legends really,” said the Englishman. “I got off to quite a nice start, only had iron off the tee.
“But they were great; we were chatting down the fairways and everything. It was good fun.”
The first round was also somewhat of a struggle for Norman, too, as the Australian matched Chapman with a two over par 72 on Thursday.
“That was ugly today, it just wasn't pretty,” Norman reflected. “I think just being on the golf course was a big issue. My concentration was bad and I just wasn't really there with my golf swing. I have to reflect on a lot of the shots I played.”
Norman might, though, later take some solace from two birdies at the par four 14th and short 15th holes, scores that went some way towards negating four earlier bogeys.