Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
EDITOR’S NOTE: Guest Columnist Loran Smith is in England this week and will be corresponding with daily articles for The Herald at the 141st British Open.
LYTHAM ST. ANNES — Saturday was a day to spend at the beach, and many in this Lancashire seaside resort, overlooking the Irish Sea and the Ribble Estuary, eagerly took advantage of that opportunity.
The golfing establishment, however, remained entrenched at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes golf course on the sunny afternoon.
Lytham, the town, dates back to 600 AD and is known for its large number of trees — Leafy Lytham it is often called.
St. Anne’s-on-the-sea is a planned city, officially founded in 1875, and became renowned for its sand yachting and kite flying. Often referred to as a “conurbation,” Lytham St. Annes is best known for its golf course where the Open Championship is played at least once every decade.
With the leaders teeing off after 3 p.m., there was time in the morning to walk the streets of the town and the golf course. Then there was also opportunity to reflect on the long day and what is happening on the PGA tour.
There are a number of young players on the tour who seem destined for long time stardom, including Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Kyle Stanley and Dustin Johnson. Just ahead of them would be the group which has turned 30: Ex-Georgia star Bubba Watson, Ex-Georgia Tech star Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Ex-Auburn star Jason Dufner, Lucas Glover, Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan.
From these players have come the last three major champions (Bradley, PGA; Watson, Masters and Simpson, U. S. Open).
They are likely to be heard from again. Further, they should be able to compete with the European stars who have been dominating lately. From the 2009 Masters, when Phil Mickelson took the title, through the British Open of last year, no American won a major. Bradley’s victory in the PGA at the Atlanta Athletic Club last August reversed the trend.
With Watson winning the Masters and Simpson finishing first at the U. S. Open, the prospects of an American winner at Royal Lytham, with 18 holes to go, pretty much rests with Tiger Woods (-6), Snedeker (-7) and Zach Johnson, who is tied for fifth at 5-under-par.
As the stars of tomorrow hone their game, it is always good for the emotions to see an ole timer refusing to yield to Father Time. Tom Watson, who has obviously seen better days, warmed British hearts by making the cut at three over. At age 62, Watson did not frighten anybody on Saturday as he headed to dinner with a 54-hole total of 219, good for 81st place.
Watson has played better, longer than any Open competitor — at least that is the view here.
He has five wins and a runner-up finish at Turnberry when the whole world watched him come within a shot of being the oldest winner of a major championship at age 59. What a story that would have been!
The only player with a record of success comparable to Watson would be Peter Thomson, the Australian, who also won five Open titles between 1951 and 1979. In those 29 years, Thomson finished in the top 10 a total of 17 times, but against lesser competition.
Saturday’s benign conditions brought about an opportunity for low scores, but it wasn’t to be. Par is still a nice companion at major golf championships, but keep it in the fairway here and make a few birdies and you move up the leader board quickly.
Watson finished with a two under total, good for a tie for 10th place. Harris English, another former Georgia golfer, played well for the third day in a row, posting his best round — an even par 70.
“I keep thinking where is that British Open weather which I remember seeing on TV when I was growing up?” English said. “I didn’t drive the ball too well today. Generally speaking, I am pleased with where I am, just trying to keep the Ryder Cup and the PGA championship on my mind.”
Long shot opportunity perhaps? But you have to like the Tour rookie’s thinking.