By Tony Jimenez
HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - Five-times British Open champion Tom Watson has tipped Justin Rose and namesake Bubba Watson to mount strong title challenges at Royal Liverpool this week.
The 64-year-old American says Englishman Rose is the form horse while shot-maker extraordinaire Bubba has the ability to make the ball do precisely what he wants it to do in the tricky winds that are likely to confront the players on the par-72 links course.
"I like Justin's chances," Watson told Reuters in an interview on the eve of the championship.
"You've always got to look at the horse that's leading the pack right now and I like the way he won on another links course at Royal Aberdeen last week."
World number three Rose is attempting to make it three victories in successive tournaments, having also won the Quicken Loans National event in Maryland and last week's Scottish Open.
Bubba captured the second green jacket of his career when he won the U.S. Masters at Augusta in April.
British bookmakers rate the left-handed American as a long-shot for the title - not so his namesake.
"I kind of like Bubba," said the elder Watson who surprised cardholders at nearby Caldy Golf Club on Wednesday and delivered a golf lesson as part of the #PricelessSurprises program (http://www.theopen.com/MasterCard).
"The way he hits the ball, the way he shapes the ball, you've got to like his chances.
"He's a special player. He's got the right shots to be able to hold the ball up in the crosswinds we are going to get here, left to right, or right to left. He's a real shotmaker."
Veteran Watson almost pulled off a miracle Open victory at Turnberry in 2009 when he arrived at the final hole with a one-shot lead, only to lose out to fellow American Stewart Cink in a playoff.
The 64-year-old, who will accompany compatriot Jim Furyk and 2011 champion Darren Clarke in the opening round on Thursday, admitted he has issues going into the third major championship of the year.
"My form is kind of unknown," said the Open winner of 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983. "I hit some good shots in practice today and some bad shots yesterday.
"My putting is good but my one key consistent swing thought is not working real well right now. It's only working some of the time and that concerns me.
"My back's not been good and it's caused me to have some swing issues. Today is the first day since I've been here that I've felt pretty good," added eight-times major winner Watson.
"I had an injection in my back before I came over. I've also had a problem with my hip, which I had replaced a few years ago, so I sound like a 64-year-old golfer," he laughed.
Watson, who will captain the United States Ryder Cup team in the biennial match with holders Europe in Scotland in September, said the 372-yard fourth at Hoylake had always been a troublesome hole for him.
"I can't drive it over the heavy rough on that hole," he explained. "I can't carry it far enough especially against the wind.
"I actually have to try and hit it in the heavy stuff and then carry on playing the hole. The bombers can just knock it over there.
"I've always had problems with number four here, always struggled there, but it's not frustrating, it's just not in my tool chest any more."
(Editing by Martyn Herman)