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Watson & Nicklaus meet at Turnberry again

More than a quarter of a century since their British Open "duel in the sun," Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson go head-to-head at Turnberry for another major.

The odds are heavily on Watson winning again.

The latest major added to the Champions Tour schedule -- the $1.6 million Senior British Open, which starts Thursday -- has been billed as Nicklaus vs. Watson because it takes place at the scene of Watson's memorable victory in 1977.

Back then, the two stars traded birdie for birdie as they shot 65s in the third round in rare warm, sunny conditions on the west coast of Scotland.

Although Nicklaus opened up three and two-stroke leads in the final round, Watson wouldn't let him get away. Two birdies pulled him level and he went ahead at the 71st hole. Although Nicklaus birdied the last, so did Watson to collect the second of his five Open titles.

"I won the Open championship," said Hubert Green, who finished 11 strokes back in third place. "These guys were playing another tournament."

Few changes have been made to the Turnberry links since then and the two stars said their latest visit brought back memories.

That was a very special week for me. It wasn't quite as special for Jack," Watson said Wednesday at a joint news conference.

"It was one of the few tournaments when I felt going into the tournament I really thought I could win it right from the first tee on," he said. "There was one man standing in my way -- a pretty formidable opponent over here."

While Nicklaus, 10 years his senior, hasn't had a top three finish since 1997, Watson is in standout form on the Champions Tour and in the Opens on the regular circuit.

He scored 65 at the U.S. Open, 66 at the U.S. Senior Open, 64 at the Ford Senior Players Championship and 69 at the British Open -- all in a month. If only he could have put them together in one tournament.

Asked whether he could at Turnberry, he didn't sound confident.

"Well, with my track record this year, No," Watson said.

"I'll say yes," Nicklaus interrupted. "He's playing very well. He's had some great rounds this year. He's had some good tournaments he hasn't been able to quite finish off. I think an awful lot of that is a lot of pressure he's put on himself."

And of his own golf game, Nicklaus said: "I haven't played worth 10 cents for six years."

"What keeps us both going is that we both love the competition," he said. "I may be 10 years out of his league but I'm still going to try a beat his rear end tomorrow."

A field of 144 means there are other big names such as Craig Stadler, winner of the Ford Senior Players Championship at Dearborn, Mich., two weeks ago, Tom Kite, Hale Irwin and defending champion Noboru Sugai of Japan. Golf greats Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, holders of 17 majors between them before they joined the seniors ranks, also are returning to Turnberry.

Because they go out head-to-head over the first 36 holes, Nicklaus and Watson likely will attract the biggest galleries.

The neutrals are convinced Watson, rated 3-1 favorite with the bookmakers to triumph in his first tournament of the season and his fifth senior event in all, should win their private battle.

"There's one major factor -- I don't know how well physically Jack is right now," Palmer said. "He has had some problems with his back and, on the other side of the coin, Watson has been playing extremely well. I'm not picking either but you have got to look at what's happening.

Player definitely gives it to Watson.

"There's a very big difference," the South African said. " Jack Nicklaus is 63 and Tom is 53. Listen to the players on the Tour. Tom is hitting the ball better than in his prime."

While Watson is a strong favorite to win the title, Nicklaus will have his eyes on giving his old adversary a tough game.

"I never have problems with someone beating me as long as I have given it my best shot," he said. "That's what I said to Tom as we walked off 18 back in 1977."


 

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