I don’t really watch a whole lot of golf. I’m not very good at it and I don’t think it’s that exciting, but occasionally I’ll get sucked in to the final round of a major. This weekend’s British Open Championship was one of those times.
It started on Thursday when 59-year-old Tom Watson posted a 5 under 65 to tie him for second place. I kind of figured he would fall off after that and fade into the back. In the second round he remained tied for the lead and I started to wonder if he could finish the way he started.
In an odd twist, Tiger Woods missed the cut in a major for only the second time as a professional so the spotlight was all on Watson.
After the third round, Watson became the oldest player to hold the outright lead in a major. He was in position to become the oldest winner of a major in history by more than a decade.
He had been in this position before. He had 8 majors to his credit, including five British Opens. He just hadn’t held one of these trophies aloft since 1983. That’s 26 years. That’s three years before I was born.
In fact, Watson won the 1977 Championship on the same course as the 2009 event. The major difference is that in 1977 he held off Jack Nicklaus in an epic final round and in this one he battled the likes of Lee Westwood and Stewart Cink. Westwood and Cink were four years old in 1977.
What Tom Watson did this weekend at Turnberry was one of the greatest accomplishments in all of sports. For some, he turned back the clock and 30-something years brought back memories of old-style golf. Pre-Tiger golf. For others like myself, it was like he walked out of the history books and and played like a true legend.
Before this weekend my image of Tom Watson was young man chipping in from heavy rough from just off the green at 1982 US Open. Now I have something to remember other than grainy video footage and bad fashions. It was a pretty neat thing to watch.
Then it came down to the final hole. Watson had a one shot lead and needed a par to pull off one of the best stories in a generation. Instead he watched as his putt from the fringe went too long and his final putt went too short.
The playoff went all wrong as fellow American Cink did everything right and Watson, it seemed, did everything wrong. Was age the deciding factor? Only Watson knows for sure. What I do know is that seeing the pain on his face while waiting to tee off on the final playoff hole was enough to tug at the heart-strings of even the most hardened person. You just felt so bad for him as he watched something he wanted so badly slip through his fingers.
The good part in all this is that Watson has his name inscribed on the Claret Jug five times already. He didn’t need this to validate his career or join the legends of the game; he already is one. Stewart Cink had never won a Major before and will remember that moment forever. What Tom Watson did do was give everyone, young and old alike, who watched the 2009 British Open a memory that will last a lifetime.