TURNBERRY, Scotland (AP) – Tom Watson, the master of links golf, is ready to hand the mantel over to Tiger Woods.

Chasing a third British Seniors title in four years to go with his five British Open championships, Watson is the most successful links player of all-time in pro tournaments.

But he believes Woods is the new star of links golf after the unorthodox way he negotiated the Royal Liverpool course to win his third Open title Sunday at Hoylake.

“You look at what Tiger did last week and there was almost a criticism that he never used a driver,” Watson said Wednesday on the eve of the Senior British Open. “I think that was the beauty of his game, that he could play the game as well as he did without having to hit a driver.”

Woods became the first player to win back-to-back British Opens since Watson in 1982-83. Watson made the cut at Hoylake and finished in a tie for 48th.

Weeks of hot sun and no rain parched the course at Hoylake, making the fairways ultra firm. Woods decided to keep his driver in the bag, hitting it only once in the first round.

“He used his head. He played the golf course the way you’re supposed to,” Watson said. “Phil Mickelson came over here for two weeks and he couldn’t hit it straight enough. Tiger hit it straight with the irons.”

By contrast, the Senior Open is being played on a Turnberry course which has had much more water on it and is softer and greener than Hoylake. It’s a welcome sight to Watson, who defends his title on links which have brought him two memorable victories.

His “Duel in the Sun” with Jack Nicklaus here in 1977 was one of the greatest final rounds in the long history of the British Open. When Watson returned here in Seniors play three years ago, he beat Carl Mason in a playoff after they finished 72 holes at 17-under par, a record low for the championship by six strokes.

“I have some great memories of Turnberry,” Watson said. “I don’t know how long I can keep coming but I do enjoy playing links golf. I wish I were playing a little bit better. The way my game is right now, it may show up. It may not.”

Watson won his five Opens at Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield, Troon and Birkdale. His two Seniors titles on the British links came at Turnberry in 2003 and Royal Aberdeen last year.

“Seventeen-under here three years ago, I hit a lot of quality shots,” he said. “I didn’t miss too many. Maybe we’ll find out tomorrow and the game starts coming around my trajectory goes where it’s supposed to go.”

Of his eight tournament victories on the Champions Tour, four are majors to go with his eight on the PGA Tour.

But Watson is without a tournament victory this year and faces a strong field that includes Loren Roberts and Jay Haas, who have each won three tournaments this season, and Europe’s most successful player of 2006, Sam Torrance, who has two victories on his home tour.

“For the last month I’ve not been on my game,” Watson said. “Earlier in the year I had my game under control quite a bit better than I do now. It’s one of those stretches of golf that you can get into where one swing will get you out of it and I’m waiting for that one swing to happen.”

AP-ES-07-26-06 1245EDT

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