Tom Watson, searching for some golfing history in the misty Scottish haze he loves so well, regained instead a touch of the magic that once was his alone.
"I'm not the golfer I was in 1980," the 39-year-old Watson said today, 'but there's still a lot of that in me."
There was enough left to produce a 68--a scrambly, spectacular effort similar to those of his glory years--that lifted him to within two strokes of the second round lead in the 118th British Open. And it afforded him a glimpse of the goal he's seeking, a sixth British Open Championship to match the record set by Harry Vardon in 1914.
"It was a mixed grill," Watson said of the four-under-par effort over the tame and docile links of Royal Troon. "There was some luck. There was some magic. I hit some bad shots. I hit some great shots," he said, then shrugged. "It was a typical Tom Watson round."
It included the luck and magic of a 60-foot sand shot that nestled into the cup for an eagle, along with a pair of 15-foot par-saving putts.
"Obviously, I'm in a good position to win. It's a matter of doing it. The desire is there; no question about it," Watson said.
His foremost obstacle at the moment is Wayne Grady, an Australian journeyman who has a history of second-place finishes, 26 of them in a globe-trotting career.
Grady, who said he was "playing conservative, trying not to take on too much of the golf course," saved a 67 and reached the tournament halfway point at 135, nine shots under par.
Watson, who once dominated the world game but has won only once in the last five years, was tied for second with Payne Stewart at 137.
Stewart, runner-up in the 1985 British Open, closed up with a course-record 65, breaking the mark set by Sandy Lyle, Tom Purtzer and Bobby Clampett in 1982.
Eduardo Romero of Argentina, David Feherty of Northern Ireland and first round leader Wayne Stephens of England were another stroke back at 138.
"We played a very easy Troon today," Watson said of the gentle breezes and cool, misty drizzle. "The golf course had no teeth in it."
Former U.S. Open champ Scott Simpson, among others, took full advantage. He birdied half the holes he played in a round of 66.
Simpson was tied at 139, four back, with Mark McCumber, Fred Couples, Steve Pate, Mark Calcavecchia, Australian Greg Norman and a pair of Englishmen, Derrick Cooper and Mark James.
Lee Trevino could do no better than a 73 and was at 141. Masters champ Nick Faldo of England had another 71 and was at 142. U.S. Open champ Curtis Strange was at 144 after a 74. Three-time British Open winner Jack Nicklaus shot 71 for 145.
While Watson and Stewart were advancing among the leaders, some of the European stars who have dominated this tournament in recent years quietly slipped back into the pack.
Seve Ballesteros of Spain, the defending champion and a three-time British Open title-holder, took a 73 after missing six-foot putts on the last three holes and was at 145.