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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

5-Time Champion Watson Leads at 5-Under

ST ANDREWS, Scotland -- Five-time champion Tom Watson played a superlative back nine of 31 for a five-under-par 67 to snatch the early first-round lead on the only British Open course in Scotland where he has not won.


The 45-year-old American, whose past successes include victories at Carnoustie, Turnberry, Troon and Muirfield, hit scorching form to fire an eagle and four birdies against a bogey at the 11th.


"I had trouble negotiating the left to right wind going out but I had fun in the right to left wind coming in," said Watson.


He led David Feherty of Northern Ireland and Vijay Singh of Fiji, who carded four-under-par rounds of 68, by one stroke.


They were in turn a shot ahead of U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin, who bogeyed the "Road Hole" 17th by taking three putts from 33 meters, and Ryder Cup teammate Jim Gallagher.


Greg Norman cheered his army of fans and those who had bet an estimated $1.5 million on him to win by defying a back injury to shoot a 71.


"I'm glad I played,'' he said. "The guys in the fitness trailer have done a tremendous job for me. But if this had been any other golf tournament, I wouldn't have been here.''


Virtually unable to bend properly on his right side, Norman still managed four birdies, including one at the 18th, and had little difficulty negotiating the troublesome 17th.


"I hit a 5 iron and hit over the green onto the road, but chipped back to 4 feet and made a routine par.


"Obviously I wasn't swinging and turning as much as I would like. I can't turn on my right side,'' the two-time champion said,


"I'm not going on full flow, but I improvised as much as I could and I'm happy I teed off.''


The 40-year-old Australian was upstaged by playing partners Watson and British amateur champion Gordon Sherry at the opening hole.


Watson prompted a roar from the huge gallery by rolling home a 23-meter birdie putt. And Sherry, a 2.03 meter Scot, had them cheering again with a birdie from 1.6 meters after a good approach.


"I'm playing very well,'' Watson said. "My putting stroke is good. The greens are slow and I think that will help me a little bit.''


He also has the understanding of St. Andrews to make a real run.


"It is essential to play the proper shot at the hole here,'' Watson said. "That is why the great players win here. It is never straight forward. It's a real test. It's a test of judgement.''


And it is a test of nerve, a test that all too often is played out on the massive, sharply undulated greens of St. Andrews.


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Beside Norman's bad back, the other big story line is Arnold Palmer, who isn't coming back.


Palmer's appearance will be his 23rd in the British Open, a stretch that began in 1960 when he finished second to Kel Nagle at St. Andrews.


Palmer, who won in 1961 at Royal Birkdale and in '62 at Troon, missed the cut in the 1990 Open at St. Andrews and hasn't played the event since. There won't be any others, he said.


"This is my last Open,'' Palmer said. "It doesn't seem like 35 years.''


It promises to be a sentimental farewell, one of a continuing series in majors for Palmer, who broke down in tears after playing his last U.S. Open a year ago at Oakmont near his hometown in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.


He was asked his target for his last British Open.


"There is only one,'' he said. "Because I am 65, that doesn't stop me [from wanting to win]. It is still my target.


"I may come [to St. Andrews] in 2000, but it would only be to observe and watch. The only way I would come back [to play] would be to defend.''


(Reuters, AP)