SANDWICH, England — Amid the 30 mph winds and horizontal rainstorms that wreaked havoc at Royal St. George's on Saturday, one man with nearly 40 years of links experience stood tall.
Playing with a smile that never left his face, Tom Watson reveled in the kind of fierce weather conditions that brought many of the early starters to their knees in a wet and wild third round at the British Open.
Watson's 2-over 72 wasn't the lowest score of the day, but it may have been the most impressive.
"You know, if we had weather like we had this morning the entire tournament, I don't know who's going to beat him," Phil Mickelson said.
"He played in the worst of it, and I think he shot about as well as anybody did."
Jason Day said Saturday had been his toughest day in golf. Edoardo Molinari described the conditions as "a joke."
Watson merely called them "bothersome."
"The challenge of dealing with conditions on a course like this is, it's fun," said the 61-year-old American.
"I kind of liked that forecast yesterday, when it said it was going to get nasty out there. It worked out well for me today."
While many players struggled in the gusts, Watson stayed solid, especially on the greens where he needed just 29 putts.
Parring the first six holes, the five-time Open champion birdied the par-5 No. 7, delighting the huge galleries that stayed to cheer him on.
He made par with a 30-footer on No. 8 and dropped his first shot on No. 11. Three more bogeys followed, but that didn't get him down.
"I'll remember this day. It was a very good day out there, especially with that putter," Watson said.
Never losing the determination that helped him win eight majors, Watson used his vast array of shots to combat the wind, often from the rough of the 10 fairways he missed off the tee.
Hitting only nine greens in regulation, he used his scrambling instincts well, too, helping him to one-putt eight times.
It was a clinic in how to play links golf. Especially in bad weather.
"Well, a lot of times you can see these young kids out there trying to hit it really hard into the wind. That doesn't flight the ball very well," he said.
"Hitting low stingers, things like that, you don't have to hit it that hard. You can just flight it by swinging it a little bit easier, and that will take the height off the ball. In my case I can't hit it hard. I mean, I'm 61 years old."
Watson should charge for such advice.
"He hits the ball so solid, he plays links golf, he hits a low, penetrating running shot so well and controls his distance through his trajectory. It's really impressive to watch," Mickelson said. "He was behind me the first couple days and I'd watch him hit approach shots because he just knows how to do it here."
Watson said it was a struggle by the end, but mentioned two British Opens where the conditions were worse.
"Muirfield in 2002 was worse. The worst I've ever played in the Open Championship was at Muirfield in 1980 in the first round. Lee Trevino and I shot 68 the first round and led the field by 8 or something like that. We both played lights out."
Watson is 4 over heading into the final round, nine shots behind leader Darren Clarke and even with Rory McIlroy. Winning the claret jug for a sixth time may be tough, but just as in 2009 in his dramatic near miss at Turnberry, he'll keep entertaining the fans while he tries.
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