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Veteran Watson turns on the charm

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Rob Hodgetts | 21:58 UK time, Thursday, 16 July 2009

The lady had no defence on Thursday but it was a mild-mannered 59-year-old that beat off a host of young tyros vying for her modesty.

Turnberry offered as benign a test as she is ever likely to and five-time Open champion Tom Watson took advantage to lead for most of the opening day.

The winner of the famous Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977 was pipped for the overnight lead late on by Miguel Angel Jimenez, but Watson proved that experience, guile and charm often works better with the ladies than muscles and flash clothes.

Whether the venerable veteran can pull the same trick on Friday is largely dependent on what mood the old girl is in and whether his ageing body can remember the moves.

From the forecast, the mood looks black, with rain at times and wind building to 25mph on Friday.

Then and now... Watson has history at Turnberry

"The lady was defenceless, but she's going to bare her teeth," said Watson, who looked for all the world like he did in his pomp, but with a slightly more lined face and less flared trousers.

The American's 65 was later equalled by fellow American Ben Curtis, the 2003 Open champion, another man who knows how to plot his way around a links course and avoid the pitfalls of sucker pin positions.

That other former Open winners Mark Calcavecchia, 49, and Mark O'Meara, 52, also finished within three of Jimenez's lead lends further weight to the argument.

Kenichi Kuboya's late flourish, picking up five shots in his last four holes, to join Watson and Curtis will only have rubbed salt into the wounds of those who struggled.

A stiffer breeze over the next few days might take it out of the older generation's hands, as holes appear to lengthen and distance becomes key.

But Watson carded an admirable 74 in truly atrocious first-round conditions at Royal Birkdale last year, a tournament that will forever be remembered for the performance of 53-year-old Greg Norman, who led going into the final day before finishing third.

Watson sees no reason why he can't continue in the same vein, insisting that he is far from a ceremonial golfer at Turnberry.

"I'd take a chance in a howling gale," said the three-time Senior British Open champion. "This is my sixth championship here. You get to know the course. There are certain shots out there that the kids are unfamiliar with.

"I still feel I can compete against the kids here. I'm a ceremonial golfer at Augusta. I admit that."

What of Tiger Woods, the 14-time major champion and three-time Open winner? The world number one was red-hot favourite before the tournament began but has seven shots to make up on the leader.

Woods cut a frustrated figure as he stormed straight back to the range but he knows he just needs to keep edging closer, rather than doing anything rash, to make sure he is in situ for the weekend.

And Padraig Harrington, chasing a third straight Open in a row? The Irishman, who has missed five cuts in the last six, carded a one-under 69. Before the start he said he could still win if he gets into position on Sunday. He's certainly laid a decent foundation.

"While I wasn't shooting the lights out, it gives me hope for the next few days," he said.

The much-hyped British challenge got off to a low-key start. Englishmen Anthony Wall, Lee Westwood, David Howell and Paul Casey were the pick going into Friday at two under, while Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell will also resume four behind.

Spain's Sergio Garcia, who led after each of the first three rounds in 2006 before losing out to Harrington in a play-off, is one shot further adrift as he continues his search for a first major title, as is Northern Irish sensation Rory McIlroy.

But Ian Poulter, second to Harrington last year and another widely tipped to do well this week, will probably be hoping it blows old boots on Friday to bring the field back. At five over, he'll need the help of others if he is to progress any further.

When it was mentioned to Jimenez that he had stolen the lead off Watson, he interrupted to say, "What a legend".

"Do you have any sympathy for that legend? You've just ruined his night," added the questioner.

"No, he's going to be a legend forever. He's a legend here with us and we have to feel very proud to play with him. And still playing at the level he plays."

Whether Jimenez still feels that way if Watson resumes his charge and regains the lead on Friday is debatable.

What's not debatable, at least according to the weather forecasting buffs, is that the lady is going to prove a far tougher nut to crack.

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