Janesville46.9°

Watson comes up short in Scotland

Print Print
Ian O’Connor
July 20, 2009
— In the end Tom Watson was an old man hacking away in the hay, a golfer beaten by the jagged Scottish coastline that made him a legend way back when. Turnberry finally paid him back for 1977, reducing Watson to the saddest of Grand Slam sights.

He was eight precious feet away from the greatest golf story ever told. A par putt, straight and true, was all that separated Watson from his sixth British Open title, his first major in more than a quarter century and a moment that would’ve made Jack Nicklaus’ Masters victory at age 46 feel like the C-flight semis of your local club championship.


But right there on the spot, with the world closing hard around the 18th green, waiting to celebrate an indelible triumph of the human spirit, Watson stopped acting like the gap-toothed kid who broke Nicklaus’ heart with a 65-65 finish to seize their duel in the sun.


Suddenly he was aging faster than the picture of Dorian Gray. Suddenly his hands, his eyes, his nerves and his surgically replaced hip belonged to a mere mortal less than seven weeks away from his 60th birthday.


Watson missed the putt the way an old man would, with a feeble push to the right. He was through before the playoff with Stewart Cink even started, resigned to his cruel and unusual fate.


His flawless swing came undone. Watson wasn’t waving a wand anymore; he was wrestling a gushing water hose, fighting a lost cause.


With his head down, his hands behind his back, his eyes red and moist, Watson did a grim stagger to the finish line, losing to an opponent who was two years old when Tom Terrific won his first major. Millions upon millions of deflated witnesses saw the pain in every crease of Watson’s sun-stained face.


“It would’ve been a hell of a story,” the runner-up would say. “Wouldn’t it?”


It was a hell of a story, anyway. And that’s why the lingering image of Watson’s British Open performance should have nothing to do with defeat.


He won so much more than a claret jug. By standing in the middle of the 72nd fairway with a one-shot lead, by waking up the echoes of his glorious past, Watson did far more than introduce himself to the young sports fan who saw Tiger Woods as the founding father of golf.


At a time when 59-year-old men are being fired, demoted, furloughed and emasculated by wage cuts in record numbers, Watson took a huge divot out of his generation’s mid-life crisis.


He found something possible in the impossible. He made something believable out of the unbelievable.


He was eight feet away from winning a major that sent Tiger on his way after 36 holes.


“This was absolutely Tom Watson’s Open, win or lose,” Nicklaus said.


The Golden Bear was rooting hard for his friend, the man who conquered him at Turnberry and at Pebble Beach five years later, even sent him his very first text message. Watching on TV Saturday as Watson finished the third round with the lead, Nicklaus said, “Like everybody else, including Tom, I had some tears in my eyes.


“Hopefully he will forget his age and remember he is Tom Watson, and Tom Watson knows how to finish.”


Watson birdied the 71st hole to take the lead, but then hit an 8-iron approach from the final fairway when a 9-iron was the proper play. His ball rolled over the green, and he couldn’t get down in two from there.


“When people ask me what I remember most about (Turnberry in) 1977,” Nicklaus said, “I tell them, ‘I remember I lost.’ Knowing Tom, I think he will say the same thing, if he hasn’t already.”


Of course Watson already was beating himself up but good.


“It tears at your gut, as it always has torn at my gut,” he said. “It’s not easy to take.”


Not when he had a game plan, and one he believed wouldn’t be hindered by the forces of gravity and time.


Once a Mariano Rivera-like closer, Watson couldn’t find the one last par he needed to push the boundaries of human achievement to a place they’ve never been.


“I made a lousy putt,” he said.


It only took one.


So the old man was beaten by the sea, turned back at the site of his most stirring victory. But in the process, Watson inspired millions of people he’s never met.


You can’t bottle that feeling in a claret jug.


---


What started out as a promising British Open ended in disappointment for Steve Stricker.


The Edgerton native carded a final-round six-over par 76 on Sunday to finish nine over in the tournament.


After opening with a first-round 66, which left him two shots out of the lead, Stricker played the final 54 holes 13-over.


In Sunday’s round, Stricker was 1-under through 10 holes before four straight bogeys pushed him to 3-over. He then double-bogeyed 16 and 18 in finishing the back nine with a 42.


Stricker finished tied for 52nd and earned $18,295 to remain second on the PGA Tour money list this season with $3,985,753, second only to Tiger Woods (4,560,163).


Woods, who failed to make the cut at the British Open, fell eight points behind Stricker for the FedEx Cup points lead. Stricker now has 2,059 points and Woods is second with 2,051.



Print Print