x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Watson's downfall: 'It was a lousy putt'

One "lousy" putt tranformed what was about to become one of the greatest moments in sporting history into one of the biggest anticlimaxes.

Tom Watson watches what would have been a title-winning putt come to rest inches short of the final hole in regulation play in the British Open.
Tom Watson watches what would have been a title-winning putt come to rest inches short of the final hole in regulation play in the British Open.

TURNBERRY // One "lousy" putt tranformed what was about to become one of the greatest moments in sporting history into one of the biggest anticlimaxes in the illustrious annals of golf's oldest and most famous tournament. Tom Watson, the grand old man of the game, was always going to be remembered as one of the finest ambassadors his admirable profession has produced whenever he chose to call time on a magnificent career which had seen him triumph five times already in the British Open and capture three other major championships on his travels.

But, at what should be a dithering age of 59, to have his name inscribed on the coveted Claret Jug a sixth time to equal the achievement of the immortal Harry Vardon and smash to pieces a cluster of other age records would have been the stuff of fairy tales. It nearly happened, though. So nearly. Watson made fools of those who suggested that he no longer possessed the physical stamina and mental strength to go the four-day distance with the current generation of big hitters on the various tours.

He stayed the 72-hole course with distinction, either leading or being within a couple of shots of the lead all the way until being asked to do what he has found hardest to do in his twilight years - make a vital putt from that nasty five-to-ten-foot range. "It was a lousy putt," Watson admitted after breaking the hearts of thousands of supporters watching in the enthralled Turnberry gallery and millions more around the world.

"But it would have been a hell of a story, wouldn't it?" The sporting record books have been filled over the last century with agonising moments. This is one that will go right up there with the most dramatic and most poignant. All but the most avid members of Stewart Cink's fan club were sucking that Watson putt into the Ailsa course's 18th hole. Many cried when it stayed out, but a typically dignified Watson pointed out, as he began his analysis of what might have been: "Hey, this ain't a funeral."

The former world No 1 added: "I take away such a lot from this week - a lot of warmth and a lot of spirituality. "There was something out there that helped me along - I firmly believe that. But this is Turnberry. I have some great memories here and this would have been another one." Watson, who won the first of his five Opens in 1975 and the last in 1983, knew when that lousy putt did not even threaten the hole that his astonishing attempt to rewrite the record books had failed.

He had used up every ounce of energy over four thrilling days, executing his carefully thought out course management plan to near perfection and capitalising on his extensive and intimate knowledge of the unique Turnberry links, the stage for what was his previous finest hour 32 years ago. When he was asked to give a little bit more in pursuit of immortality, his aching limbs and frazzled mind called a halt. A four-hole play-off against a younger compatriot who had been exhilarated by what proved a life-changing brilliant birdie on that same 72nd hole a few minutes earlier was beyond the extraordinary veteran's capabilities.

Losing by six strokes in that evening shoot-out is a statistic that should be swiftly swept under the carpet. Watson did not deserve to be beaten so emphatically in the end but, like a boxer pinned to the ropes after punching himself to a standstill, he was powerless to prevent Cink from inflicting a succession of killer blows. Watson, who is Turnberry's most memorable champion after defeating his close friend and former rival Jack Nicklaus in the epic "Duel in the Sun" of 1977, now takes from his fellow legend Nicklaus the title of Turnberry's most gallant runner-up.

They say nobody remembers who came second in big sporting events. Those of us privileged to watch and listen to 'Major Tom' from his hugely entertaining practice day briefing onwards will remember this one ... for many years to come. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae