Act their age? Not them
Let's hear it for the old guys. Tom Watson, who turns 60 in September, struck a blow Thursday for those who believe age is just a number. He led for most of Thursday's first round of the British Open, and his 5-under 65 puts him in a tie for second place heading into Friday. Staying in contention is a long shot, but his performance did conjure up thoughts of some great performances by older athletes. Here is just a sampling of impressive showings by older athletes.
Whenever the subject of old guys in sports comes up, Jack Nicklaus' performance at the 1986 Masters is one of the first thoughts. At 46, he became the oldest player to win the tournament when he shot a final-round 7-under 65. But actually, it was another Masters performance that might have been more impressive. In 1998, at age 58, Nicklaus finished at 5-under, including a 68 on Sunday, to finish in a tie for sixth, four shots behind winner Mark O'Meara, who was 41 at the time. Five-under would have been good enough to win or tie for the lead at Augusta 14 times since World War II.
This, actually, might be the most impressive feat on this list. Competing in a sport dominated by teenagers and those in their early 20s, Dara Torres won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics even though she was, at age 33, the oldest member of the American swim team. The best, however, was yet to come. Incredibly, at age 41, Torres won three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, including the 50-meter freestyle when she set an American record she had once set 26 years earlier, when she was only 15.
One of the scariest and most devastating punchers in boxing disappeared from the sport in 1977 but returned in 1987 at age 38. Then in 1994, at age 45, George Foreman fought Michael Moorer for the IBF and WBA heavyweight championships. Moorer dominated for nine rounds as Foreman looked for an opening to throw one big punch. When he found it, Foreman knocked out Moorer and was the heavyweight champ for the first time in 20 years. He went on to win three of his next four fights before retiring for good at age 48.
Nolan Ryan threw seven no-hitters in his career, three more than any other pitcher. The sixth came on June 11, 1990, when he was 43 years old. The last came on May 1, 1991, when he was 44. And those were not the only impressive performances in his later years. In 1993, when he was 46, he hit Robin Ventura of the White Sox with a pitch. Ventura charged the mound. Despite being 20 years older, Ryan proceeded to get Ventura in a headlock and fire several punches that would have made George Foreman proud.
From 1900 through 2003, only 14 pitchers threw a perfect game in the majors. The average age of those 14 pitchers was 29 years, 6 months. The oldest was Cy Young at age 37 in 1904. Then came Randy Johnson, the 6-foot-10 left-hander. On May 18, 2004, less than four months from his 41st birthday, Johnson struck out 13 Braves and set down all 27 batters to become the oldest pitcher to toss a perfect game and just the fifth pitcher to throw a no-hitter in both leagues.
Some would argue Bernard Hopkins is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world right now. Now here's the kicker: He's 43. He already was the oldest middleweight champion ever as he held the belt for 10 years and defended it 20 times. Since turning 40, Hopkins has done well against top-flight competition. He won lopsided unanimous decisions over Antonio Tarver and Winky Wright and lost a split decision to Joe Calzaghe. Then in October, when he was 42, Hopkins, in the minds of many, won every round in dominating fashion against previously undefeated Kelly Pavlik.
Here's a trivia question for you: Who's the oldest player ever to win a major championship in golf? Answer: Julius Boros. He was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship at Pecan Valley Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas. He shot a final-round 69 to beat Bob Charles and Arnold Palmer by one shot. Fittingly, Boros was instrumental in the late 1970s with the start of the senior tour, known today as the Champions Tour.
Navratilova already was one of the legends in tennis well before this decade. From 1978-90, she won 18 grand slam singles titles, including nine Wimbledons. In 2003, when she was 46, she won the Australian Open and Wimbledon mixed doubles titles with Leander Paes to become the oldest player to win a major title. But she still had a couple of more impressive victories left. In 2004, when she was 47 years, 8 months, Navratilova won a Wimbledon match in straight sets to become the oldest player to win a pro singles match in the Open era (after 1968). Two years later, at age 49, she teamed with Bob Bryan to win the U.S. Open mixed doubles title.
When it comes to old guys and golf, Sam Snead is the master. He's the oldest player to win a PGA Tour event, taking the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open just shy of his 53rd birthday. At the 1979 PGA Championship, he became the oldest player (67 years, 2 months) to make the cut at a major. He was the first tour player to shoot his age when he shot 67 at the 1979 Quad Cities Open. And until Vijay Singh came along, Snead held the record for PGA Tour victories after the age of 40 with 17.
After the World Hockey Association folded and the Hartford Whalers joined the NHL, the legendary Gordie Howe decided to play one more season. He played all 80 games and helped the Whalers into the playoffs with 15 goals and 26 assists. He also played in the All-Star Game, picking up an assist. Now the amazing part: He was 51. We should also take this moment to recognize defenseman Chris Chelios, who turned 47 in January and recently announced he wants to play next season -- his 26th in the NHL. Consider this: When Chelios broke into the league in 1984, Sidney Crosby was three years from being born.