TURNBERRY, Scotland – Tom Watson shot a 64 on the final day of the 2003 Senior British Open, his last competitive round at Turnberry prior to the start of the 2009 British Open.
On Thursday, back at sunny, defenseless Turnberry for the first round of the 138th British Open, Watson shot 65.
He must be getting old.
"I still feel as if I can compete against the kids," said Watson, 59, who made five birdies and no bogeys to share the lead until Miguel Angel Jimenez birdied 18 in the early evening light for a six-under 64.
Ben Curtis, the 2003 Open champion who had top 10s in this tournament in 2007 and 2008, eagled the par-5 7th hole and birdied the par-5 17th to catch Watson with a five-under 65 in the afternoon.
Japan's Kenichi Kuboya also came in with a 65 thanks to a birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie finish.
They trail only Jimenez, 45, the cigar-chomping Spaniard who has 15 victories on the European Tour but is still looking for his first in 2009. He made six birdies and no bogeys Thursday.
Nearly a third of the field shot under par.
"We definitely caught the golf course on a very benign day," said Mark O'Meara, 52. O'Meara, the 1998 Open champion and Watson's fellow competitor on the Champions Tour, shot 67.
Several players — led by Stewart Cink, Steve Stricker and Camilo Villegas — came in at four-under 66, while pre-tournament favorite Tiger Woods struggled to a one-over 71.
"I certainly made a few mistakes out there today," Woods said after being outplayed by both of his playing partners, teenager Ryo Ishikawa and Lee Westwood, who both shot 68.
"The misses I had were the same shots I was hitting on the range," said Woods, who lost several shots to the right. "So I need to go work on that and get it squared away for tomorrow."
When Watson won the 1977 Turnberry Open, the "Duel in the Sun," Woods was a year old, still months away from his national television debut with Bob Hope on The Mike Douglas Show.
When Watson won his last of five British Opens, in 1983, Sergio Garcia, one of his two playing partners Thursday, was 3.
Italian amateur Matteo Manassero, 16, the third member of their threesome, was still almost 10 years from conception.
All of which is to say that Watson is old. But he didn't feel his age in his practice rounds, and he didn't look it Thursday. As Jack Nicklaus proved when he contended at the 1998 Masters at 58, the golf ball doesn't know how old you are.
"It doesn't feel a whole lot out of the ordinary from 32 years ago," Watson said. "Except that I don't have the confidence in my putting as I had 32 years ago."
Cink briefly got to five under before giving a stroke back at the last to finish four under. He was part of a logjam at 66 that also included Australians Matthew Goggin and John Senden, Villegas and Stricker, who won last week's John Deere Classic.
Watson seemed to be infallible, and said afterward, "There was something slightly spiritual about today."
He got a text message from Barbara Nicklaus, wife of Jack, wishing him luck this week, and wrote back, "You know, we really miss you over here."
"And I really meant it," Watson said after his round. "It's not the same without Jack playing in the tournament."
Yes and no. Watson's score of 65 matched his Saturday and Sunday scores from 1977. On a longer, tougher Turnberry, he said he was able to channel some of the good feelings from that week.
Thursday's weather was perfect, but the wind was expected to arrive Friday, which suited the battle-tested competitor.
"I'd take a chance in a howling gale," Watson said when asked what type of weather he'd prefer for the final 54 holes.
He has played in three Opens at Turnberry, the last of which, in 1994, he felt he should have won were it not for a balky putter. He's also played in two Senior British Opens here. (He won in a two-hole playoff after the 64 in 2003.)
A year after Greg Norman contended at Birkdale, Watson reminded everyone of the value of experience in links golf.
So did Mark Calcavecchia, 49, the 1989 Open champion. He shot 67, as did O'Meara. Tom Lehman, 50, bogeyed 18 for a 68. Vijay Singh, seeking his first Open title at 46, also shot 67.
"The older guys have an advantage," Watson said.
British fans supported Watson as if he were an honorary Scot, some with shouts of, "Show 'em how it's done, Tom!"
That's par for the course for Watson here, and he laughed in the pressroom about being recognized.
"In the States they don't know who the heck I am," he said, "but over here — I don't get a big head about it, but people come up, 'Tome! Tome!'" Watson's Scottish brogue elicited laughs. "'Nice to meet you, Tome!'"
Watson also has been helped by an instructional DVD he is making, for release this fall. It's helped him remember exactly how he put together his Hall of Fame career, which is no small thing. He mentioned his failing memory several times after his round.
"So how am I going to do? That's what you all want to know," Watson said after an awkward pause. "How am I going to do the next three rounds? Well, I don't know. I don't have a clue what I'm going to do. I wish I could tell you. I wish I could tell you that I'm going to break the Open record and shoot 262, but we'll just see where it comes to."