In the end, all Tom Watson could do was admire the Claret Jug. (Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)
Despite heartbreak, Watson won't forget this amazing week
No one was more disappointed about the Open's finish than Tom Watson. But the grace with which the he handled the aftermath of his gut-wrenching defeat spoke volumes about the champion he is.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
TURNBERRY, Scotland -- The silence oddly was as deafening as those raucous cheers from the massive grandstands by the 18th green about an hour earlier.
Reporters from all over the world, several of whom had been at Carnoustie to cover Tom Watson’s first Open Championship victory 34 years ago, filed somberly into the interview room, where he waited patiently Sunday evening and took their seats.
Finally, Watson could stand it no longer.
“This ain’t a funeral, you know,” he said with a sad and weary smile.
The scene was reminiscient of the 1996 Masters after Greg Norman had squandered a six-stroke lead and lost to Nick Faldo. The Shark waited for the room to fill, then looked out at the sportswriters and started by saying simply, “I played like (crap), guys.”
In each instance, two great players who were hurting inside were disarming in their candor. And the grace with which they handled the aftermath of a day rife with such raw emotion spoke volumes about the champions they are.
On the Scottish shores of the Irish Sea this sunny Sunday afternoon, Watson had very nearly authored what would arguably have been the biggest story in the history of this grand old game. Bigger than his five Open Championships. Bigger even than the classic “Duel in the Sun” he won on this same Turnberry course in 1977.
All he needed to do was sink an 8-foot putt on the 72nd hole of the 138th Open Championship and Watson would have been the oldest to ever win a major -- or any other PGA TOUR event, for that matter. Instead, he headed for a playoff with Stewart Cink and suddenly began to play like the man who will turn 60 in less than two months.
“It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn't it?” Watson wondered out loud. “It would have been a hell of a story. It wasn't to be. And yes, it's a great disappointment. It tears at your gut, as it always has torn at my gut. It's not easy to take.”
If he had the ultimate mulligan, Watson probably would have hit a 9-iron, not an 8, to the 18th green. Maybe then the ball wouldn’t have rolled into the fluffy rough just off the back of the green. Maybe then he wouldn’t have stabbed at that par-saver and ripped our guts out along with his.
The playoff that ensued was hardly a contest, which was painful to see after Watson had gone toe-to-toe with the game’s best players, some of whom weren’t even born when he won his first Open, and made us believe. The errors were compounded and our emotions cratered.
A “chubby” 5-iron at the first of the four playoff holes paved the way to his first bogey. Watson pulled a hybrid into the crowd at the second and said “my legs didn’t work” when he teed off on the third.
“By that time, Stewart had it pretty well in hand,” Watson acknowledged with a sigh. “The swing wasn’t quite there.”
After Cink hit a stellar approach to 3 feet on the final playoff hole, he could relax and enjoy the walk up the 18th fairway. He also had time to reflect on what Watson, who will be playing in next week’s Senior British Open, had nearly accomplished.
“I'm pleased as punch that I've won this tournament, and also proud of the way Tom Watson played because not only did he show how great a golfer he is, but he showed what a great game we all play, the longevity that can exist, for a guy to come out and compete,” Cink said.
“We thought Jack Nicklaus had hung the moon when we won the Masters at 46. This is 13 years on from that. … So it just says a lot about golf.”
And about the competitor Watson is.
All week, the eight-time major champion had been saying he believed he could win. He felt serene as memories of his late caddy, Bruce Edwards, came flooding back. And the crowds embraced him as they always have, a man who is linked with links golf like no other.
“I take from this week … a lot of spirituality in the sense that there was something out there,” Watson said, his voice halting briefly. “I still believe that. It helped me along. It's Turnberry. Great memories here. This would have been a great memory.”
Despite the heartbreak at the end, Watson said he will never forget the warmth of the crowd as he walked down the amphitheater of the 18th fairway – twice -- on Sunday. The support, he said “makes you feel human.
“It makes you feel so good.”
Most of all, though, Watson had fun this week. He showed a new generation of players, some the age of his own children, that he could still play this game. He joked that his headline would have been: The old fogey almost did it.
“What I've always said is when all is said and done, one of the things I hope that will come out of my life is that my peers will say, you know, that Watson, he was a hell of a golfer,” Watson said.
That he is. That he is.