Tom Watson showed once again that he has lost none of the big tournament mentality that made him such a dominant force in the 1970s and 1980s by storming to the top of the leaderboard at The Senior British Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management.
The 55 year old American recorded matching halves of 32 for a seven under par 64 and a one stroke advantage from Craig Stadler going into the final day at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club.
In his younger years, Watson won five Open Championships, one US Open and two Masters Tournaments, and since transferring to the ranks of 50-plus golfers he has picked up another three Major Championship titles - the 2003 Senior British Open Championship, 2003 JELD-WEN Tradition and 2001 Senior PGA Championship.
He started the third round in Scotland on four over, five off the lead held by his compatriot Stadler, but he was soon making his move with birdies at the short third and par four fifth, plus an eagle three at the 499 yard sixth.
With the wind now hardly blowing, the only gusts came as Watson swept through the field. He dropped just one stroke, at the par three eighth when he three putted from 60 foot, and signed for a seven under par 64 – which equalled the record for the newly-lengthened Balgownie Links that had been set earlier in the afternoon by England’s Derrick Cooper.
"Today was the first time in a long time I made some putts. I hit the ball well today, the best I've driven it in two days," said Watson. "I may play a little bit differently tomorrow, as far as where I try to place the ball off the tee."
Stadler, meanwhile, was in the group behind and making less spectacular progress. ‘The Walrus’ dropped three shots before a birdie at the short 17th gave him a one under par round of 70 and a three-round total of 211.
Ireland’s Des Smyth and Australian Greg Norman, who shot 68 and 70 respectively, share third place with an even par total of 213. The next best placed players are Derrick Cooper and American Loren Roberts on four over 217.
Cooper, who works as a Tournament Director on the European Seniors Tour, carded a bogey-free 64 to haul himself back in contention after a second round 80.
The 50 year old from Warrington had five consecutive birdies around the turn and is four over for the Championship with a three-round total of 217.
“I set off mediocre, had a very good chance of birdie at the third hole but left it short. I didn’t think anything was going to happen today but made a great up and down at six that sparked me off and then had a good run up to the ninth and just through the turn,” said Cooper.
The birdie at the 499 yard sixth was followed by ones at the short eighth, par four ninth and 10th, par three 11th, par five 12th and par four 15th
During the second round the 465 yard par four ninth hole played as the most difficult with a stroke average of 4.831, but Cooper bucked the statistical trend with a brilliant six iron from 152 yards to 15 foot and holed out.
He putted well all round after switching back to his original putter after it arrived in Aberdeen by courier. “I left in the garage. I bought a new one at the pro shop here, used it for two days. That’s now back in the bin and my (original) putter is back out.”
Overall it was a fantastic days' golf at Royal Aberdeen with Major winners like Watson, Stadler and Norman going head to head to the enjoyment of large galleries.
The legendary Gary Player, winner of nine Senior Majors including three Senior British Open Championships (1988, 1990 and 1997), shot three over his age with a magnificent 72.