ST ANDREWS // Tom Watson is treated like an adopted Scot in these parts and he struggled to keep his emotions in check as the appreciative galleries reserved the loudest roar of the day when he marked his farewell British Open appearance at St Andrews with an emotional closing birdie three. The third major championship of the season is not due to return to the course on the east coast of Scotland until at least 2015 and the popular veteran's Open exemption runs out a year earlier.
He knew it was his final farewall on Friday and he mouthed the words "I love you" to the galleries as he posed for a battery of photographers on the 18th hole's famed Swilcan Bridge. The five-time Open champion and eight-time major winner was holding back the tears as he removed his cap before stooping to kiss the floor of the bridge, knowing that he had missed the halfway cut. "I thought of Arnold [Palmer] on the bridge, I thought of Jack [Nicklaus] on the bridge, and their last Opens were both right here at St Andrews," Watson said after carding a 75 for 148, four-over par.
"My last Open is not right here, the good Lord willing. The creek don't rise, as they say, and I have a few more years left thanks to the R&A's special exemption for me." Watson was unable to repeat his unforgettable performance at Turnberry last year when he came close to an unheard-of-achievement by leading the championship on the 72nd tee before losing an agonising four-hole play-off to his American compatriot Stewart Cink. But in a typical act of sporting generosity on Friday he took time out to complete a symbolic handover to one of the brightest talents of the modern generation.
Watson gave a long, lingering handshake to Ryo Ishikawa, his playing partner, and offered some quiet words of encouragement to the 18-year-old Japanese golfer, who went into the last two rounds on three-under par and with an outside chance of claiming victory here. "I just simply said, 'you're a fine player and don't change things,'" said Watson. 'You have a very fine golf swing.' "I think sometimes people get the idea they can get better by making a major change in their golf swing and that doesn't usually happen. It usually goes backwards when you do that."
Ferocious winds of up to 64kph proved too much for Watson, dressed in a checked, fawn sweater and matching brown trousers, as the 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983 Open champion left the Old Course stage for the last time with a birdie three. Just as darkness fell and play ended for the day at 9.45pm, Watson gave his fans a glorious late reminder of his sublime strokeplay by driving just short of the 18th green and almost holing out with his eagle chip.
"This golf course was tough today and as I said on Thursday, she was naked yesterday but she put on her boxing gloves today and just hit us with all she had," he said. "I had a lot of fun playing it. I didn't play my best. I was thinking to make the cut in this type of wind, if I had shot even par I might have been able to sneak in." * Reuters