x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

No one remembers a loser? Forget that

Tom, Turnberry, Tiger and transport, but most of all Tom. The 138th Open Championship can be wrapped into a fabled fourball of parables after a quite astonishing four days in Scotland.

Tom, Turnberry, Tiger and transport, but most of all Tom. The 138th Open Championship can be wrapped into a fabled fourball of parables after a quite astonishing four days in Scotland. This was perhaps the first golf tournament that was won by the chap who finished second. The death throes of the final day on Sunday produced anticlimax and anti-hero. Stewart Cink lifted the Claret Jug after disposing of a withering Tom Watson in a four-hole play-off, but unfortunately the champion, as lanky and illuminating as he was, selected the wrong week to earn the recognition that a first major merits. That is not a slight on Cink, just a truthful account of what went on here. These were unique and bewitching times that may never be repeated in professional sport.

Cink and another 154 men played cameo performances all week behind the master from yesteryear. It sounds so wrong, but felt so right. On such heady occasions, one is allowed to be a little biased. Watson is 59, but retains the swing he had at 29. He would have won a sixth Claret Jug and become the oldest holder of a major by several strokes if his inconclusive putting stroke had matched the other departments of his game. That he stood over an eight-footer to win is indicative of a man for all weathers, all ages and all occasions.

Watson's game fell into decline in the latter part of the 1980s because of his turmoil with the putter. It was ironic that a short, amateurish effort on the 72nd hole finally unfastened his watertight play. We should not allow this to detract from the bigger picture, a truly enriching series of events. Watson flourished in conditions that proved too harsh even for Tiger Woods, who missed the cut by one stroke. He made a mockery of the age issue, which is already a growing blight on the landscape in modern Britain. You are only as old as you feel. Watson's game remains virile, aided by a hip replacement operation.

One wonders if Woods watched the final round? He may have been a loser at Turnberry, but in golf's grander plan, was a winner. Jack Nicklaus remains four majors ahead of Tiger on 18, but what Watson did on Sunday should strengthen Tiger's claims to be called the greatest if he can tick off another five. In golf, like in football, it is pointed out that older players could not live with this generation.

Watson won his second of five Open titles around here by defeating Nicklaus in 1977. Here was a figure not only living with the new era, but scurrying around giving them a lesson in how to play golf and doing so with a smile on his face. Nicklaus yesterday shared Watson's disappointment. Much is made of age, but Watson was constantly held up by the slow play of younger men. The jam on the course mirrored the wretched traffic outside as 123,000 spectators over the four days frantically jostled for position as much as the men on the leaderboard.

This was Turnberry's first Open since 1994. Hardly surprising, with a road infrastructure barely fit for tractors. The Royal and Ancient should scrutinise this as intensely as their ruling on exemptions. Watson is due to play his final Open at St Andrews next year in his 60th year. For what he has given to the Open, he should be allowed the privilege of stepping aside when the mood takes him. There remained a sense of dejection yesterday in Scotland that the man from Kansas failed to leave with his ninth major. The ones who prayed and were in tears when he finally wilted will be thankful for the time to recuperate.

They say that nobody remembers losers. Tom and Turnberry tossed that theory out to sea. @Email:dkane@thenational.ae