Old geezer’s Open

The old geezer’s got game.

Tom Watson celebrates holing a putt on the 16th that tied him for the lead during the third round of the British Open at Turnberry

TURNBERRY, Scotland — The old geezer’s got game.

Soon we’ll find out if the old geezer’s got nerves.

Tom Watson will stretch his 59-year-old bones until they’re somewhat limber, then go out Sunday afternoon and try to do the unthinkable. He’ll tee off in the final group with a one-shot lead and try to win his sixth British Open title against a bunch of young whippersnappers who don’t intend to show any respect to their elders.

He’s got no business being where he is. We’ve got no business betting against him.

Not after yet another sometimes brilliant day on the links at Turnberry. Not when he’s approaching his job with an almost Zenlike visage.

Not when he’s got a plan.

“It would be something special if I do what I intend to do tomorrow,” Watson said.

Laugh all you want at that one. We’ve been laughing all week, just waiting for the old geezer to collapse.

But no-one’s laughing anymore.

Tom Watson may actually win this Open. No, make that Tom Watson will win this Open.

Who’s going to beat him? Mathew Goggin? Ross Fisher, presuming his wife doesn’t go into labour and he has to leave at the turn?

Lee Westwood, who is the local favourite but has been a chronic underachiever in major championships his entire career?

I’ll take my chances on a guy who has won five of these things before. A guy who is so at home at Turnberry that he stays in a suite at the Turnberry resort that’s named after him.

A guy who stared down Jack Nicklaus here and sent Tiger Woods packing.

A guy who is so comfortable with his position that he spent most of his news conference Saturday making jokes about everything from text messaging to naming all of his kids George (he didn’t).

Nerves? Leave those to the young ’uns to worry about.

“I feel like my nerves are too well fried to feel them,” Watson said, laughing. “Yeah, I mean, come on. Let’s just kind of go with what I’ve got.”

So far that’s been good enough, which is shocking just by itself because we’re talking about a guy who had a full hip replacement last October and is just three years from collecting Social Security.

Sure, people can play golf to an advanced age, but they don’t win major championships at a time most of them are bouncing grandchildren on their knees.

The oldest to do it was Julius Boros, who won the PGA Championship in 1968 at age 48. The most famous to do it was Nicklaus, who roared back from behind in the final round to win a thrilling Masters in 1986 at 46.

Watson, as you might have heard, is 59. He may still swing like the gap-tooth kid who looked like Huck Finn and beat Nicklaus in the epic “Duel in the Sun” here 32 years ago, but calendars seldom lie.

He was supposed to show up, reminisce about the past and get out of town before the weekend. His last competitive round was a month ago and it came in his own tournament, the Watson Challenge, back home in Kansas.

Now he can recite a story line that’s been growing daily.

“The first day here, ’Yeah, let the old geezer have his day in the sun,”’ Watson said. “The second day you said, ’Well, that’s OK.’ And now today, you kind of perk up your ears and say, ’This old geezer might have a chance to win the tournament.’ I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know one thing. I feel good about what I did today. I feel good about my game plan.”

Indeed, he’s just 18 holes from a win that would rank among the most epic in golf. And someone familiar with both Watson and the game thinks he just may get it.

“If Tom plays smart golf tomorrow, he is the favourite,” Nicklaus said from his home in south Florida. “And I do not anticipate him playing anything but smart golf.”

So far Watson has been plenty smart, easily navigating his way around a links he knows almost as well as the greenskeeper. Given a chance to crack in the final group Saturday, he instead turned in a tidy 71 that included two birdies on the last three holes.

The only hint of trouble came on the 18th hole, and it had nothing to do with his game. Watson, whose longtime caddie, Bruce Edwards, died in 2004 from Lou Gehrig’s disease, hit his second shot toward the green and handed the club to caddie Neil Oxman.

“Bruce is with us today,” Watson said.

“Don’t make me cry,” Oxman replied, and the two of them began doing just that.

There will surely be plenty of tears Sunday if Watson manages to pull this one off. There will also be plenty of cheers from a Scottish crowd that has urged Watson on every step of the way.

They love him not only because he has won this Open five times, but because he truly appreciates links golf and everything that goes with it. Watson’s career was made on their soil, and they feel a kinship with him.

Before Saturday, Watson figured that relationship would have to be celebrated long distance. The Royal and Ancient has a rule that players can’t compete past age 60, and Watson was reconciled to the fact next year’s Open would be his last.

But the guardians of golf in Britain apparently had an epiphany.

They declared late Saturday that if Watson wins he will have a 10-year champion’s exemption and can play until he’s 69.

Nice, but it’s not as if Watson needed the incentive.

Not when he’s ready to win one for old geezers everywhere.

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