HOYLAKE, England — Tom Watson is at Royal Liverpool Golf Club more statesman than competitor. He is the Ryder Cup captain this fall, for the second time. He has won the British Open five times, and took the sporting world’s breath away by nearly winning a sixth five years ago, when he was 59.
Now, he is 64. Earlier this week, he was extended an invitation to play at the British Open next year at St. Andrews for what would be his last time. But he’s sticking around here, too, posting a second-straight 73 in Friday’s second round to sit at 2 over par, right on the cut line.
“I am enjoying it,” Watson said. “I came over here with a purpose to play my best golf and play on the weekend. And let’s see what happens on the weekend. Let’s see if the old guy can maybe get it rolling a little bit.”
Watson’s affinity for and ability to play links golf is legendary, and when he birdied the first hole Friday, the galleries took notice. He is particularly adept at playing in adverse conditions, where his ball — not as long as it once was — still pierces the wind.
“It’s all about distance control,” Watson said. “Can you get the ball the right distance? Can you play the chess game? Move your ball to this position to get to that position. It’s not how far you drive the ball.”
Still, when Watson made three bogeys in a four-hole stretch, he faced a daunting task over the final eight holes. He birdied the difficult par-4 14th, and made seven more pars.
“There’s no age when I’m out there,” he said. “I’m doing the same thing as I did when I was 22 years old, although I can’t hit the ball very hard anymore.”
With the forecast calling for widespread and violent thunderstorms much of Saturday, the R&A took the unprecedented step of scheduling play for the third round off both the first and 10th tees — common practice on the PGA and European Tours, previously considered sacrilege at the British Open.
“Certainly, there’s no suggestion that this is going to be a general change of policy,” said David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of rules and equipment standards, at an evening news conference. “This is a reaction to the issues that we face for tomorrow, and it should be viewed as that.”
Play will begin at 9 a.m. locally, and officials said they could still finish the third round even if there was a five-hour delay. The forecast calls for bad weather beginning around 2 a.m., with a four-hour window of “much improved conditions,” Rickman said, before more thunderstorms become possible.
Tiger Woods famously won the 2006 British Open here by using only one driver over 72 holes. Friday, he put the driver back in play — “I was trying to be more aggressive,” he said — and it nearly cost him the weekend.
Woods, who opened with 69 Thursday, made a double bogey at the first, a bogey at the second, and then 14 straight pars. But he hit driver out of bounds at the par-4 17th, leading to a triple bogey 7 that moved him from even-par to over the cut line.
“With the wind the way it was, I could take some of the bunkers out of play and get it down where I had sand wedge into the green,” Woods said. “… I figured today would be a chance to go out there and be aggressive and do that, take those bunkers out of play, and just didn’t drive it well.”
Woods made a solid up-and-down birdie at the par-5 18th to finish a 77 that left him at 2 over.
“Not very good,” said Woods, playing his first major of the year following his March 31 back surgery.