TURNBERRY, Scotland (Reuters) - Blustery winds and cooler temperatures greeted the players for the British Open final round on Sunday as overnight pacesetter Tom Watson prepared for a late teeoff and a bid for golfing immortality.
The 59-year-old American, who won the last of his five Open titles at Royal Birkdale in 1983, was one stroke clear of a congested leaderboard after carding a one-over 71 on Saturday.
Watson has thrilled the Scottish fans all week with his consummate links-course game and an extraordinary putting display to stand on the brink of becoming golf’s oldest major champion.
Compatriot Julius Boros holds the record, having clinched the 1968 U.S. PGA Championship at the age of 48.
Should Watson go on to clinch his ninth major victory and tie Harry Vardon for a record six Claret Jugs, it would rank as the most remarkable achievement in the sport.
Although he tees off at 1420 local (1320 GMT) as a slight favourite because of his experience and cool head under pressure, he has six players bunched behind him within three shots of the lead.
Australian Mathew Goggin and Briton Ross Fisher were tied for second at three under, with double U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa and former European number one Lee Westwood a further stroke adrift.
Straight-hitting Jim Furyk, whose only major victory came at the 2003 U.S. Open, and fellow American Stewart Cink were tied for sixth at one under overnight.
Among the early starters on Sunday, 2002 champion Ernie Els birdied two of the first seven holes to get to one over for the tournament, five off the lead.
Level with the smooth-swinging South African were 16-year-old Italian amateur Matteo Manassero, after eight holes, and Britain’s Luke Donald (six).
Although gusts of 28-mph (45-kph) have been forecast for later in the day, scoring was a little easier for the early starters with the wind switching overnight to a southwesterly direction.
Former champion Paul Lawrie was among those to take advantage, recording a rare albatross two at the par-five seventh on his way to a two-under 68 and an eight-over total of 288.
The Scot, who won the 1999 Open at Carnoustie, struck a four-iron from 213 yards and watched as the ball bounced up on to the green and rolled into the cup.
“The wind was a little off the left and I just hit a nice three-quarter four-iron,” a smiling Lawrie told reporters. “It was just the perfect distance really. It felt good.”