Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Watson Warrants a Wow; '82 Champ Fires 65 to Share Lead

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Watson Warrants a Wow; '82 Champ Fires 65 to Share Lead

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits, Times-Union sports writer

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- Bruce Edwards handed Tom Watson a 6-iron and told him to cut the ball at a back-right hole placement at the par-4 12th hole.

With one graceful swing from the 53-year-old Champions Tour player, the ball tracked the flag, landed on the green and rolled in for an eagle-two. The crowd ringing the green erupted and Edwards started thinking there was going to be magic in the air.

"When he holed that 6-iron, I said, 'Lookie here . . . we might have something going,' " Edwards said. "Not bad for an old guy."

Not bad for a young guy. And with the first round of the U.S. Open completed at the Olympia Fields Golf Club yesterday, it's Watson, the oldest player remaining in the field and 21 years removed from winning the Open in 1982 at Pebble Beach, who is sharing the lead in 2003.

Watson followed that eagle with four birdies and by matching his career-low Open round, he joined Brett Quigley at the top of the leaderboard at 5-under-par 65.

Justin Leonard and Jay Don Blake are a shot behind at 4-under 66, while Jim Furyk of Ponte Vedra Beach and Australian Stephen Leaney are at 3-under 67. Defending champion Tiger Woods struggled to an even-par 70.

Watson's late-afternoon sprint up the leaderboard produced one of the most emotional days on a major championship stage since Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at the age of 46 in 1986.

Watson is playing in the Open on the special invitation, and was at the site of the 1968 Western Open, the first PGA Tour event he played, as an 18-year-old amateur.

If that wasn't enough, there was the inspiring sight of Edwards, lugging a bag that he said got lighter with every birdie. Edwards, a Ponte Vedra Beach resident, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease Jan. 15. There is no known cure. However, both player and caddie, who have been together since 1973, said bleak thoughts of the future faded away for a few hours.

Edwards was asked whether the round meant more to him than Watson's final round in the 1982 Open, where he chipped in for birdie at Pebble Beach's par-3 17th to beat Nicklaus by one shot. Edwards stopped and cried quietly for a few seconds before responding.

"It was just a game then," he said. "It's more than a game now. I never know if [the tournament] will be my last one."

Watson, who has been assisting Edwards with his soaring medical costs, also felt a tremendous mix of emotions.

"I didn't start getting emotional until he did," Watson said. "He started to [cry] on the back nine, and then the last few holes there were quite a few tears for both of us. It's quite a memory for me, to be able to play the U.S. Open, my favorite tournament, the most difficult to win, with my friend and caddie for 30 years. . . . if I shoot 90 [today], I don't care."

After Watson eagled No. …

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