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Day 6 in Scotland for British OpenPosted Monday, July 20, 2009, at 7:17 AM
Sunday broke with the hope of history. The debate was already starting. Should Tom Watson win the 149th Open Championship, where would this settle in the annals of competitive sport?
The BBC commentators were quite open. Even given the fact that two Englishmen, Lee Westwood and Ross Fisher, were nipping at the old man's heels, Watson would be the crowd favorite. You see, the British appreciate an American who relishes their scared competitions.
Over the years in golf, many of the greats never made the Open Championship a frequent stop. Hogan, Snead and Nelson avoided the British Opens with regularity, Talk to the Brits and they will tell you that it wasn't until 1970 when American players started making the summer trip across the pond and they credit Arnold Palmer as being the Captain of that east bound ship.
In the mid-70's along came Tom Watson. The Kansas City native and Stanford graduate soon found links golf to his liking. Need I say if I would have told you last week that a Stanford grad with the initials TW would be leading the Open heading to the 72nd hole- you would have guessed Tiger Woods and not Tom Watson.
Prior to Watson's 2:20 p.m. tee time I attended a private luncheon with R&A officials. My host was Gordon Jeffries and I ask him what in sport would compare with a Watson victory. "I suppose if Bjorn Borg came out of retirement and won Wimbledon again with a wooden racket that might compare," answered Jeffries.
Those of us that work golf or play the game know the cruelty that the sport can sometimes bring. It reared its ugly head in the final two holes at Augusta this year when it appeared Kenny Perry would be the oldest winner of a major championship.
Today after Watson birdied the 17th hole it appeared the improbable Open Championship was in his grasp. And when he hit a perfect tee shot safely into the fairway at 18, there was little doubt.
"Oh, Thomas, Thomas, Thomas," sighed Peter Aliss. "You are proving that miracles do happen. Fairy tales come true. This is something we thought we would never see. Tom Watson, the great champion, some forty odd days away from his 60th birthday with a chance to win his 6th Open Championship."
Then, as happens in golf, Watson struck what appeared to be a perfect eight iron on his second shot, the ball just stayed in the air and carried well onto the green and rolled off the back into the rough behind.
"That was real unlucky," remarked Alliss. "In the old days, he would pop out a sand wedge and pitch it close."
But, Old Tom Watson elected to putt and he whipped it past the hole by ten feet. He showed the frailty of his aging nerves by fanning his winning putt to the right forcing a four-hole playoff with another American, Stewart Cink.
Poor Cink. Here is a guy who has played 14 years on the PGA Tour. This was his 54th major championship and he wore the tag of "the best to never win a Major". Cink is likeable among everyone in golf, but he went to the playoff being the villain. The world was rooting for Old Tom.
"I have always been an under the radar guy. I am the guy that nobody really ever roots for," said Cink. "Saturday I played with Lee Westwood. He's a Brit and the crowd was with him. So, I knew the feeling. I was used to it. Maybe that will change now."
We all knew that Watson missed his chance on the 72nd hole. Tragically, it was obvious to the naked eye that he knew it, too. Clearly deflated in the playoff, he grew weary and looked like a 60-year old who just had nothing left in the tank.
But, there was a lesson to be learned today. Sometimes more is learned in defeat than victory. On a day when some of the game's great young players have been criticized for not handling bad shots well, Watson was graceful and elegant in his behavior when things were plummeting out of control.
As Old Tom played the final playoff hole, he was four shots down to Cink. Watson hit a spectator with an errant tee shot and he sincerely apologized to the gent upon arriving to his ball. He continued to hit wayward shots and finally scraped in a bogey losing the four-hole playoff by six shots.
When Old Tom sank his final putt, Cink stepped back and applauded the effort. Watson tried to keep a smile on his worn out face throughout all of the adversity. There was no display of frustration in what had to be one of the most painful hours of his competitive career.
As on BBC commentator aptly put it, "Stewart sinks Tom's dream."
The trophy presentation at golf's oldest championship was one of the most unique in the history of the game.
There was Watson, 59 years old, being presented the Silver Medal.
Cink, at age 36 was handed the Claret Jug.
Matteo Manassero, the 16-year old Italian was recognized as the leading amateur.
Three generations were represented.
For 71 holes, Old Tom Watson played like Young Tom Watson. He gave us memories that we will all take to the grave. Old Tom left Turnberry as a champion.
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