x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

An unforgettable Open from the evergreen Watson

Tom Watson's performance over the past four days on the links of his beloved Turnberry will be recounted by lesser mortals for many years to come.

Tom Watson tees off on the ninth hole during the final round of the British Open yesterday.
Tom Watson tees off on the ninth hole during the final round of the British Open yesterday.

TURNBERRY // Tom Watson's performance over the past four days on the links of his beloved Turnberry will be recounted by lesser mortals for many years to come after the golfing legend withstood a succession of challenges from younger, fitter rivals in a thrilling British Open.

The brilliant American in the end just failed to close out what would have been the greatest victory of his life in regulation play, a missed six-footer at the last consigning him to a four-hole play off against fellow American Stewart Cink. Had he made that putt, Watson's triumph would have been nothing short of remarkable and would have stood alongside his victorious "Duel in the Sun" against his arch rival Jack Nicklaus on these same Ailsa links in 1977 at the top end of golf's greatest achievements.

Six weeks short of his 60th birthday, Watson stood to become by a distance the oldest winner of his sport's most famous title, smashing an age record set by the legendary 'Old' Tom Morris who was in his 47th year when he won the tournament for the fourth time in 1867. Watson, who was also seeking to equal Harry Vardon's record tally of Open wins and to raise his haul of majors to nine, had set the pace from day one and remained at the top of the leaderboard for almost every hole since that opening round of 65.

Nerves were jangling as Watson came down the 72nd hole a shot ahead of his fellow American Stewart Cink, whose birdie at the last for a round of 69 had set a clubhouse aggregate target of 278, one better than the score posted an hour earlier by England's Chris Wood - the youngster who almost defied all the odds to win as an amateur at Royal Birkdale a year ago. Cink should have been joined at two under par by Lee Westwood who was on that mark after a birdie at the 17th but the Englishman, putting for birdie and a share of the lead, rushed his putt six foot past and missed his return effort for par to finish in a tie for third with Wood.

The cheers for Watson as he walked down the last were deafening but he could not afford to be too responsive to them as his adrenaline-filled approach had raced through the green leaving him with a tricky uphill return to make the final par he desperately required. Watched by Australian journeyman Mathew Goggin, with whom he shared the overnight lead, Watson again hit his ball too hard and was left with the knee-trembling six footer that has haunted him in the latter stages of his illustrious career.

Watson spoke several times during the week about the "spirituality" he has felt at Turnberry. When he needed a touch of divine intervention more than he had ever required it before, it was not quite there and he jabbed at what could have been the clinching putt to bring about a play-off with Cink. Cink had started the day three behind Watson but refused to concede defeat after what looked like costly fives at 16 and 17. His brilliant approach to the last and nerveless putt rewarded his tenacity.

It also left Westwood ruing his own aggression at the last. Denied a play-off to last year's US Open by a single shot, he was agonisingly so near and yet so far again. Only four players ended the 72 holes with scores better than par. Tied for fifth on level par were Goggin, Retief Goosen, of South Africa, and England's Luke Donald. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae Play-off drama, a1