In the campaign and media circles that Philadelphia political consultant Neil Oxman moves in, being a "bagman" can bring deep trouble.

On the professional golf circuit, where "the Ox" has caddied for Tom Watson since 2003, being "on the bag" for the highly respected former champion's return to glory is a supreme honor.

Oxman, a bearish and bespectacled man whose caddy's cap covers thinning brown hair, basked at the edge of limelight at the British Open in Turnberry, Scotland, this week after Watson set the course ablaze with a first-round, 5-under-par 65. Under more difficult weather conditions yesterday, Watson shot an even-par 70 and is tied for the tournament lead with little-known American Steve Marino.

At 59, Watson is the oldest player to have led a round in a major international golf championship. Watson, a five-time British Open champion, had a hip replacement just nine months ago.

In a telephone interview yesterday, an emotionally exhausted Oxman took a moment from a harried schedule to describe what it was like to be on the fairways and around the greens for the history-making rounds.

"This is a gigantic story. And it's just wonderful to watch him play so well," said Oxman. "He's playing wonderfully, and I'm just toting the bag. To be there for support. Yesterday, he played flawlessly. Today, the wind was difficult on the opening holes and he fought back."

Oxman will play his supporting role on worldwide TV again today when fans tune in to watch Watson play the third round and to catch glimpses of the Merion man who carries his clubs. The winner of the British Open, one of the four major golf championships each year, will earn $1.23 million. The final round is Sunday.

Oxman has known Watson since 1972, when Watson was in his first full year on the Professional Golf Association tour, and Oxman was caddying to pay his way through the Duquesne University law school. He'd attended Villanova University as an undergraduate.

When Watson's longtime caddie, Bruce Edwards, who was a good friend of Oxman's, came down with Lou Gehrig's disease, Oxman was asked to step in. The disease eventually claimed Edwards' life.

From 2003 on, Oxman has led a dual life, maintaining his political work and taking time off to accompany Watson at international tournaments.

Over the years, the men have become close, even while seeming like a bit of an odd couple.

"Tom reads the New York Times and the Washington Post online," Oxman told The Inquirer two years ago. "He's reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about Lincoln. He reads Tom Friedman in the Times. But he also reads conservatives like Drudge and Limbaugh."

Over the years, Watson, a onetime liberal, has become what Oxman, a staunch Democrat, called an "old-fashioned, WASPy, Heinz-Rockefeller Republican. . . . On some issues he's conservative, on some he's moderate."

In a conversation about two months ago, Oxman joked that he would happily caddie full time, and only moonlight as a political guru - but it's just not practical. The award-winning political consultancy that he cofounded, the Campaign Group, may be best known locally for producing the endearing TV spot in which Olivia Nutter, daughter of then-candidate, now-Mayor Michael Nutter, opined that her father was "pretty cool for an old guy." For Nutter's campaign, it was widely viewed as a turning point.

The firm, which has offices in Philadelphia and La Jolla, Calif., boasts that of 81 candidates it has represented since 2002, 72 have won their races. Among its other high-profile clients is Gov. Rendell.

Oxman, an intense and quirky guy who sees about 230 movies a year in theaters, appears annually on WHYY-FM for a sort of cinematic year in review.

When a player has Watson's skills, his caddie's job is to keep a low profile, carry his "sticks," and give precise distances of each placement of the ball from the hole.

"Neil takes the distance part very seriously," said his sometime golfing partner Larry Eichel, a former Inquirer reporter. "He always makes a point of walking the course before the practice rounds and making detailed notes."

Asked about his preparations before big tournaments, Oxman was low-key.

"All caddies do their homework," he said. "I walked the course this week, charting things. Every caddie does."

For Oxman, being back at the British Open with Watson playing so well is especially thrilling because the open was their first major tournament together in 2003. Since then, he has caddied for him more than 50 times.

"We go right from here to the Senior British Open and then the Senior U.S. Open," he said. "I'll be on the road for three weeks."

It seemed from his voice that he couldn't be happier.