Tom Watson gestures during a press conference before the start...

Tom Watson gestures during a press conference before the start of the 139th Open Championship on the Old Course at St. Andrew's in Scotland. (July 14, 2010) Credit: AFP/Getty Images

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - For Tom Watson, the Open Championship inevitably evolves into the past, even if he doesn't want it to.

Either someone is asking about what might have been a year ago or that missed opportunity here on the hallowed golfing ground of the Old Course 26 years ago.

Strange how it is in sports. No matter how many championships you earn, and Watson has five Opens, only one fewer than the century-old record of Harry Vardon, the questions are always about the championships lost.

Such as the 2009 Open, when Watson, age 59, led for 71 holes at Turnberry before a bogey on 18 led to a tie and playoff loss to Stewart Cink.

Such as the 1984 Open here when Watson came to the 17th, the Road Hole, "the hardest hole in golf," tied with Seve Ballesteros and hit a 2-iron onto the road near a stone wall. The bogey dropped him to second.

It was a nostalgic but forward-looking Watson who showed up in the media tent Wednesday, 24 hours before the start of the 139th Open.

"St. Andrews is a hard course to understand," said Watson, when asked his chances. "You have to re-learn it every day."

This will be his seventh and most likely his last Open at St. Andrews, a course on which Jack Nicklaus said "all great Open champions must win," but a course where Watson has only one top-10 finish, that runnerup.

The disappointment of a year past, when Watson was a stroke from becoming the sports story of the year, has not lingered.

"It tore my guts out," said Watson of the final-hole failure at Turnberry, "but I've had my guts torn up before in this game. But it hasn't made any impact.

"People of our age come up to me and say they couldn't stop watching. They say. 'I'm 60 years old, and I've given up on the game or given up on something else, and you've given me hope.'"

The hope for Watson is in 2010 after an 18th place in the Masters and a 29th in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, "It would be a great triumvirate if I did well here at age 60."

Ballesteros is not doing well. He is home in Spain, after undergoing multiple surgeries for a brain tumor. At the Champions dinner, held only when the Open is at St. Andrews, Ballesteros sent a brief video.

"He said I wish I had energy to be there," Watson said. "It was sad to see him. But seeing him I remembered the cheer that went up before I tried to make my par putt at 17 [in '84]. I looked at 18, and there he was [indicating an arm pump.] I said. 'Uh, oh, I have to make it now.' But I didn't."

Watson and several others, including Arnold Palmer, received honorary doctorates from the University of St. Andrews.

"I told Arnold, 'You've always been my idol,'" Watson said. "When I grew up I was a member of Arnie's Army. Then Jack came along and beat Arnie, and I couldn't stand it. I told Arnie, 'The only reason I beat Nicklaus all those times is because he beat you.' He got a laugh out of that."

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