Four days after his heartbreaking playoff defeat to Stewart Cink at Turnberry, Tom Watson shot a 3-under 67 on Thursday to begin his pursuit of a fourth Senior British Open title.
The 59-year-old Watson, who almost became the oldest major champion at the British Open last weekend, was three shots behind leader Fred Funk.
Funk birdied five of his last eight holes, including holing a bunker shot at No. 17, for a 6-under 64 — the lowest opening round in the history of the championship.
“The first nine could have been three or four over, and the back could have been eight under,” said Funk, who had a two-shot lead over fellow Americans Jay Haas and Loren Roberts, Des Smyth of Ireland and Christopher Williams of South Africa.
Watson was another stroke back and tied with Tom Kite, Jerry Bruner, Greg Norman of Australia and Sam Torrance of Scotland.
Bernhard Langer, who has two Champions Tour wins this year, opened with a 72.
Watson said he hadn’t watched a replay of his missed putt on the final hole at Turnberry, an 8-footer for par that would have won him the claret jug.
“I don’t want to. That was the ugliest stroke in the world. I don’t want to relive that thing,” Watson said, before admitting he initially wanted to play it over again. “Then I said, ‘To heck with it. That’s history. That’s over and done with.’”
Asked if he had ever been in so much demand before, Watson replied: “Frankly, no. Just the outpouring of people communicating with me — I’ve never had that happen before.”
Watson was told that Norman, his playing partner Thursday who came close to winning last year’s British Open, had said people were offering congratulations and commiseration for the next 51 weeks.
“I guess I’ll have to be ready for that,” Watson said.
Three share Evian lead
Evian-Les-Bains, France — Becky Brewerton shot a 5-under 67 and was tied for the first-round lead at the Evian Masters on Thursday, while Michelle Wie rescued a disappointing start with two late birdies for a 73. The South Korean duo of Na Yeon Choi and In-Kyung Kim also shot 67s in windy and overcast conditions that forced play to be suspended for one hour because of late-afternoon thunder.
Woods to play in Buick Open
Grand Blanc, Mich. — Tiger Woods has decided to play in the Buick Open as he prepares for the final major of the year.
Woods announced Thursday that he would return to the Buick Open, which he has won twice. His longtime endorsement deal with Buick ended early last year, and there were questions whether Woods would play.
Woods did not play the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines earlier this year because he had not returned from knee surgery.
The decision means Woods is likely to play three straight weeks concluding with the PGA Championship. Between the Buick Open and the PGA Championship is the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, a World Golf Championship that Woods has won six times.
Na’s 63 best in Canadian
Oakville, Ontario — Kevin Na birdied the final five holes and nine of his last 12 for a 9-under 63 and a two-stroke lead over Retief Goosen, Scott Verplank and Joe Durant during the suspended first round of the Canadian Open.
After playing one hole Thursday morning, Na waited out a 71⁄2-hour rain delay in the tournament plagued by wet conditions for the second straight year.
Jimmy Walker was 6 under with four holes to go when play was suspended because of darkness. Mike Weir, trying to become the first Canadian to win the national championship since Pat Fletcher in 1954, opened with a 70.
Royals send Guillen to DL
Kansas City, Mo. — Kansas City Royals right fielder Jose Guillen is headed to the 15-day disabled list after spraining his right knee while putting on his shin guard against the Los Angeles Angels Wednesday night. Royals general manager Dayton Moore said Thursday that Guillen will go on the DL with a sprained knee and outfielder Mitch Maier will be recalled from Triple-A Omaha. Guillen is hitting .245 with nine homers and 40 RBIs.
Rockies acquire Betancourt
Toronto — The Cleveland Indians have traded reliever Rafael Betancourt to Colorado for minor league pitcher Connor Graham. Betancourt has spent his entire seven-year career with Cleveland.
Draft moving to Thursday
New York — The NFL is making its already popular draft even more television-friendly, moving the first round to Thursday night. Next year’s draft will switch from a two-day, weekend format to a three-day event with the opening round in prime time for the first time.
The NFL said Thursday that the first round will begin at 6:30 p.m. on April 22. The second and third rounds will start at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, with the last four rounds beginning Saturday morning.
The draft will continue to be televised by ESPN and NFL Network and held at Radio City Music Hall.
Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger says allegations by a Lake Tahoe casino hostess that he raped her a year ago are “reckless and false.” Roethlisberger read a statement Thursday at the Steelers practice complex in Pittsburgh. A 31-year-old Nevada woman has filed a civil lawsuit alleging the Super Bowl winning quarterback raped her in a hotel penthouse last year.
Report: Vick, Goodell meet
Richmond, Va. — Michael Vick might soon discover just who’s interested in giving him a second chance. Two people familiar with the meeting confirmed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Vick, agent Joel Segal and two other members of the suspended quarterback’s team met Wednesday at a security firm in New Jersey. The two people requested anonymity because the league has not acknowledged the meeting.
Earlier Thursday, Vick’s Virginia-based attorney Lawrence Woodward denied reports that Vick spent his first night of freedom at a Virginia Beach strip club.
“It is absolutely, categorically false,” Woodward told the AP.
Vikings sign CB Winfield
Eden Prairie, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings have signed cornerback Antoine Winfield to a five-year contract extension. In his 10th season out of Ohio State, Winfield had 95 tackles, four forced fumbles, two interceptions and two sacks last season to help the Vikings to the NFC North title.
ETSU rewards Bartow
Johnson City, Tenn. — Murry Bartow has been given a two-year contract extension as head basketball coach at East Tennessee State University. The school said in a news release Thursday that his contract now runs through the end of the 2013-14 season.
Griffin’s outlook good
Los Angeles — Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said he didn’t expect Blake Griffin’s shoulder injury to have a lingering effect on the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. The club revealed on Wednesday that Griffin has a strained right shoulder that will require three to four weeks of rest.
Draft pick spurns Cavaliers
Cleveland — Christian Eyenga, a raw shooting guard drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Cavaliers, will stay with his Spanish club rather than play with LeBron James next season. The 20-year-old Eyenga thanked Cleveland for drafting him with the 30th overall pick, but said Thursday he doesn’t feel ready for the NBA.