By Tony Jimenez
SANDWICH, England (Reuters) - While some players looked hang-dog and forlorn in the British Open's high winds and persistent rain, Tom Watson simply donned his waterproofs and got on with the challenge of defying the elements to shoot a remarkable two-over 72 on Saturday.
The 61-year-old American seemed to revel in the conditions early on, registering six straight pars before saluting huge cheers from the crowd after a superb approach set up a birdie four at the long seventh.
He then celebrated with a beaming smile when he sunk a snaking 25-footer for par at the eighth as he reached the turn in one-under 34 before mixing one birdie with four dropped strokes coming home.
"Watson was unreal to go round under-par on that front nine," 2010 European PGA champion Simon Khan told Reuters after being told of the veteran's third-round performance.
The aging Watson's still rhythmical swing stood up to the harshest of examinations and he wielded a hot putter to stay in with an outside chance of lifting the Claret Jug for the sixth time in his glittering career.
"We'll see where the leaders are later," the popular 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983 Open winner told reporters after finishing on 214. "Four-over right now is eight shots off the lead so we'll just have to see how they fare later.
"If it lightens up at all ... they may get a benefit from it. Conditions are bothersome but you just try to do the best you can to keep your grips dry and your wits about you and go about your business to try to make pars.
"Par is a great score out there but it's a struggle," added Watson who came agonizingly close to winning the 2009 edition at Turnberry when he was beaten in a playoff by compatriot Stewart Cink.
Although conditions were brutal, Watson said he had known worse in the third major of the season.
"The worst I've ever played in the Open championship was at Muirfield in 1980, the first round," he explained.
"Lee Trevino and I shot 68 and led the field by eight or something like that. We both played lights-out golf."
While some of his competitors looked beaten by the elements before they had even teed off, Watson was bright eyed and bushy tailed at the prospect of testing his game in the inclement weather.
"The challenge of dealing with conditions on a course like this is fun," he said. "It's fun to be able to hit a few shots that really are good.
"I didn't drive the ball very well today but fortunately I didn't put myself in too many bad positions ... and I hit quite a few good low shots.
"There's an old saying, 'Swing with ease into the breeze," Watson added. "A lot of times you can see these young kids out there trying to hit it really hard into the wind.
"Hitting low stingers, 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.
"I'm 61 years old, I can't swing hard, so the ball is flighted naturally."
Watson is one of the all-time great putters and he waved the shortest stick in the bag like a magic wand on Saturday.
"My putter was spot-on. I made some good early putts for pars at number one and number four, then I birdied seven after knocking it on the green in two," he said.
"It was a great day on the greens for me. I just had that feel for some odd reason and I hope it continues tomorrow. I'll remember this day."
(Editing by Martyn Herman)