TURNBERRY // As Padraig Harrington's bid for a third straight British Open effectively ended, Tom Watson continued his attempt to become the oldest major winner in history today. Harrington's third round of 76 left the defending champion nine over par and 14 shots off the lead, too much to overcome even for a man who wiped out a six-shot deficit going into the final round at Carnoustie in 2007. At the start of the week a victory for 59-year-old Watson looked equally unlikely, but the five-time champion remained a genuine contender for a sixth Open title. Watson won his second Claret Jug at Turnberry in 1977 and also led at the halfway stage the last time the Open was staged here in 1994.
On that occasion he was still just one shot off the lead with 18 holes to play, but stumbled to a closing 74 to drop into a tie for 11th and called it the "most disappointing tournament I've ever had." "I was playing so well from tee to green and I just absolutely struggled on the greens," Watson recalled. "And I have to say that that was about the most disappointing tournament I've ever had, when I really, really felt that I could win that tournament from day one. The putter totally let me down."
So far nothing has let Watson down, least of all the putter with which he holed massive birdie putts on the 16th and 18th yesterday to help rescue his round after being four over through seven holes. And he began his second round today with two solid pars to claim the outright lead as playing partner Steve Marino - the Open rookie playing his first links golf - dropped a shot on the second. At five under par Watson was one clear of Marino and the double US Open champion Retief Goosen, with England's Ross Fisher, Japan's Kenichi Kuboya and the 1989 champion Mark Calcavecchia another stroke back. On another tough day for scoring, the American Bryce Molder had set the clubhouse target on level par after five birdies in his last 11 holes to card a superb 67. Watson found sand off the tee on both the third and fifth but saved par both times, holing from seven and 14 feet respectively to maintain his one-shot lead. Marino was not so fortunate, however, the world No 77 dropping five shots in four holes as his fairytale Open debut threatened to turn into a nightmare. Molder's level-par total of 210 continued to lead in the clubhouse, although it had been matched by Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee after a 69. * PA Sport