Open icon Watson salutes toughness of Birkdale leader Spieth

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Tom Watson knows more than any man alive about what it takes to secure the Claret Jug and the five-time Open champion feels Jordan Spieth's "mental toughness" could well prove decisive at Royal Birkdale.

Only Harry Vardon - a winner on six occasions from 1896 to 1914 - has claimed more Open titles than Watson, whose final triumph came in 1983 at the course hosting this week's tournament.

A defining quality of Watson's game was his ability to thrive on and around the greens, which often came to the fore when it mattered most.

And the 67-year-old sees many parallels between his own strengths and those of Spieth, who is two strokes clear at Birkdale following rounds of 65 and 69 in challenging winds over the first two days.

Speaking in a suite overlooking Birkdale's 18th hole on Saturday at an event to mark 50 years of Rolex and golf, Watson said: "One of the things I love about Jordan is his mental toughness, the way he plays the game. His enthusiasm first, but his toughness, not to let any shot slip. That's what I like most about Jordan.

"He's always able to make up for a mistake with his putter and his short game. People ask me why I won five Open Championships. I say, first of all there was a lot of luck involved ... but my short game and my putting, that was my strength.

"You look at Seve [Ballesteros] and the way he won from all over the golf course. There were some [Open] Championships where I really played well and others where I just kind of hung in there like a horse race. You just keep with the pack, keep with the pack and then you try and nose out ahead. It takes toughness to do that and that's what Jordan has. 

"He seems very well grounded. He's a mature young man and he's a mature man at an early age."

A standout moment in Spieth's second round on Friday saw the young Texan hole a chip for an unlikely par from off the back of the 10th green, when he looked set to drop at least one stroke and lose a share of the lead.

The stunning rescue act prompted two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange to tweet: "Jordan Spieth chips in more than anybody I have ever seen other than Watson and Seve."

When Strange's comment was put to Watson, the eight-time major winner replied with a smile: "That's part of the reason you win. The players that become champions, they get it. There's a lot more than just hitting the ball and putting - it's the ability to score.

"The short game is probably the biggest factor. They talked about me making 'Watson pars', 'Seve pars', and now there's 'Spieth pars'.

"Look at the way he won his first tournament at the John Deere Classic. He holed it out of the bunker to win his first tournament and that was an omen for things to come. He continues to do it and you'll still see him do it.

"That's what's exciting about his play. You never know when that's going to happen but you half-expect it now when you watch him - can he do it here?

"I'd say I broke a lot of hearts with my short game, including my putting, over my career."

After heavy rain and strong gusts made life tough during the second round at Birkdale, conditions were set to prove much more benign in Saturday's third round.

"The course will yield a lot of good scores today," Watson added. "It's soft, no wind, and the players finally get a breath.

"You can play the yardages - the last two days, you couldn't play the yardages, you had to play by feel. That's where the wind in links golf really changes the game over here. Winds in America, you still can play by yardage. Over here, you play by feel when the wind is blowing so hard."

--- Rolex has been official timekeeper at The Open and partner of the R&A since 1980