This is the era of Tiger Woods. This is the title defense of Padraig Harrington.
Yet at age 59, with wrinkles framing his gap-tooth grin, Watson poured in birdie after birdie, reviving his spiritual connection on Scottish links with a bogey-free round of 5-under-par 65.
"There's certain shots on the golf course that I remember how to play," Watson said.
His name was atop the leaderboard Thursday for six hours, giving Turnberry the buzz that Woods couldn't deliver, until Miguel Angel Jimenez came through with a 66-foot birdie putt on the final hole for 64 and his first lead in a major.
Even then, the 45-year-old Spaniard knew the moment belonged to Watson.
"What a legend," Jimenez said.
Watson might have been the only one who saw this coming.
He said two weeks ago that his primary objective was to play well to "compete against the kids," some of whom where not even born when he won his epic duel against Jack Nicklaus in 1977.
Watson, though, couldn't help but embrace the memories himself on the eve of the British Open. He told of receiving a text message from Nicklaus' wife, Barbara, wishing him luck at Turnberry.
"I texted her back and said, 'You know, we really miss you over here,'" Watson said. "And I really meant it. It's not the same without Jack playing in the tournament."
At times, it sure looked the same.
In surprisingly still conditions, Watson made it around Turnberry without a bogey, holing a 6-foot par putt on the last hole.
"I can still beat this golf course somehow," Watson said.
Jimenez also played bogey-free and finished strong. He lashed a 5-wood onto the green at the par-5 17th for a two-putt birdie from 65 feet, then rolled in a birdie putt on the 18th from just off the front of the green.
"Since I woke up this morning, you can see through the window and you look at the sea, it looked like a pond. So nice, so calm," Jimenez said. "You can't ask a better day to play golf. It took care of me."
Ben Curtis, who like Watson won the British Open in his first try in 2003 at Royal St. George's, had four birdies over his last six holes for 65. They were joined by Kenichi Kuboya of Japan, who finished birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie from one of the final groups.
Steve Stricker led the group at 66, and he was among those who was swept up in seeing Watson's name atop the leaderboard.
"I think if Watson plays the way he played today, he can beat Tiger Woods and everyone else," Stricker said. "He flushed it today."
It helped that Turnberry laid down, a rare day along the Ayrshire coast with barely a breeze. Fifty players broke par.
Woods was not among them.
He had as many birdies as clubs thrown in disgust -- three.
Woods was seven shots behind, his largest first-round deficit ever in the British Open.
"I certainly made a few mistakes out there," Woods said. "Hopefully, tomorrow I can play a little better."
Harrington, who had missed his past five cuts until winning the Irish PGA last week against a weak field, had 69. He is trying to become the first player in more than 50 years to win the claret jug three times in a row.
TURNBERRY, Scotland --- Colin Montgomerie isn't talking. That, however, didn't stop his flap with Sandy Lyle from rumbling on at the British Open, with Lyle calling his fellow Scotsman a "drama queen."
Lyle contends Montgomerie cheated when replacing his ball at a tournament in Indonesia four years ago, a dispute that has cast a cloud over the Open at Turnberry. Montgomerie did not speak to reporters after 1-over-par 71. Lyle, a former Masters Tournament and British Open champ, shot 75.
In an interview with BBC Radio, Lyle said he would like to talk to Montgomerie over a couple of beers to sort out their differences.
"I think Colin's Colin -- we do sometimes call him a bit of a drama queen," Lyle said. "But you've got to get around to it and stop hiding behind your manager and come out and we'll have a talk."
LOCALS ON THE BOARD
Brian Gay, Louisville, Ga.
9 shots back
Charles Howell, Augusta native
9 shots back
Oliver Wilson, Augusta State
8 shots back