At age 49, Tom Lehman is still a contender at the British Open

At age 49, Tom Lehman is still a contender at the British Open

Lehman finished at four over par.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

SOUTHPORT, England — Tom Lehman, 49, wore plain black rain pants, a plain, untucked black pullover, and black shoes at the 137th British Open on Thursday.

Another member of his threesome, 31-year-old Azuma Yano of Japan, sported gold stud earrings in each ear. Johan Edfors, the 32-year-old Swede with longish, Bjorn Borg style hair under his painter's cap, also in Group 44, walked in silver shoes, played out of a silver bag and caressed a pink putter grip. His caddie wore sandals.

"You noticed that, too? He never wears shoes," Lehman said, smiling. "He told me he doesn't even own a pair."

The beauty of a tournament like the Open, a melting pot of golfing excellence, is the vast contrasts — of nationalities, body types, playing styles and, as the example of Lehman's group so colorfully illustrated, ages.

"I still play on Tour, and over in Europe, so I know most of these guys," said Lehman, who shot a four-over 74, five shots off the lead. "Here's what I know about the young guys: If you call them they'll never answer their phone, and they'll never call you back. If you text-message them, they'll answer in 20 seconds."

Lehman is less than a year away from Champions Tour eligibility, not the player he once was but not ready to quit. He tied for eighth at Bay Hill, sixth at the Players this year. Those are small victories. The Minnesota Golden Gopher headcover on his driver is missing half of its right eye.

But if Lehman looked a little frayed amid all the florescent pizzazz of his threesome, his experience, his lunch-pail sensibility, portended only good things, because for a while it was Turn Back the Clock Day at Birkdale.

There was Greg Norman, 53, near the very top of the leaderboard, right there with Bart Bryant and U.S. Open darling Rocco Mediate, both 45. All shot even-par 70s.

If they could do it, why couldn't Lehman? The 1996 British Open champion and 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup captain was threatening to match them until he butchered the 15th hole.

Cruising along at even par after a crafty par on the par-4 13th hole, where his drive dribbled into a pot bunker, he bogeyed the par-3 14th before making a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 15th. He lost his drive right, where his ball settled in a terrible lie, had to muscle up on a sand wedge to get to the fairway, then tried for too much from 260 yards.

Dead into the wind, Lehman badly blocked his 3-wood third shot and watched it sail into a huge plot of bushes. He knew right away to hit a provisional, because the odds of the first ball being found were slim to none, and there's no sense embarking on a long search and an even longer walk back up the fairway if you don't have to. That's experience for you.

In a span of 25 minutes, Lehman had gone from even par, a shot off the lead, to four over, where he finished the day along with Yano. Edfors shot 78.

"I had one horrendous hole," Lehman said before joining his wife and son after the round. "Other than that it was a good round."

It was, in fact, still a good round. Lehman's 74 put him in a tie for 38th place, better than three-quarters of the field and in great position to make the cut. He had at least one more day, maybe three, to show everyone he can still play.

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