Tom Watson: 10 Years Later

Tom Watson
2009 British Open
Credit: Fred Vuich

Tom Watson is the greatest links golf player of all-time nobody understood how the play the game on links course more than this man from Kansas City, Missouri.  Between 1975 and 1983 Watson won the Claret Jug five times 2nd most ever behind Old Tom Morris who played in the 1800s. His win in 1977 came at Turnberry Resort on the southwest coast of Scottland, by one shot over Jack Nicklaus in the famous “Duel in the Sun” 32 years later the Open Championship was back at Turnberry for the 4th time, Watson was 59-years-young making what many expected to be his 2nd to last appearance in the Open. When the tournament began on Thursday morning nobody could have imagined the four days that would transpire and how one big gust of wind, ended what would have been the greatest sports story of all time.

When the 2009 Open Championship began at Turnberry Resort on July 16th, 2009. Many scores stunned everyone watching with Tiger Woods struggling to a 71, 2003 Champion Ben Curtis shot 65 tied with Kenichi Kuboya and…Tom Watson. Watson played his first practice round on Monday and was one of the few to play a round on Wednesday in 50+ mph winds a tactic he said gave him a huge advantage. His real advantage was his experience at Turnberry whereas we previously stated won in he knew on Friday the winds would change and the course would start playing mostly into the wind, unlike the with the wind conditions it had been playing in most of the week. With that experience in hand, he went back out in Friday’s conditions and shot 70 and everyone realized that something special was happening. Watson later said that night he got so many emails that his server crashed. It was unbelievable at 59-years old Watson was tied for the lead in the Open Championship.

In the 3rd round, Watson continued his good play with a 71 and carried a one-shot lead into the final round. Before he could even start his final round Ross Fisher had taken the lead from him with two early birdies, but a bogey and quad dropped him further back. Watson made two early bogeys to drop back to -2, tied with Lee Westwood but three late bogeys cost Westwood his chances. Watson made the turn at -2 but made a quick birdie at 11 two shots ahead of Stewart Cink. It was clear it was down to these two men and Cink closed with 3 birdies in the final six holes. Watson stood on the tee of the Par 5 17th tied with Cink, one birdie and one par and he’d win a 6th Open Championship. Two brilliant shots into the Par Five and he was just over the green, he two-putted for birdie and went to the 18th needing a Par to complete the greatest sports story ever made. He safely found the fairway in pretty much the same spot he was in 32-years prior. 186 yards to the pin, 196 to the back edge, one more good shot and a 6th Claret Jug was his. Watson asked his caddie, Neil Oxman “Ox what are you thinking” Oxman replied “I’m thinking 8” Waston said “So am I” He pulled his 8-iron out and hit the shot with the ball in the air it looked perfect, Watson later said it looked just like the 2nd shot he hit in 77 to 2 feet to clinch the tournament. It landed directly on a downslope, and the instant it landed a massive gust of wind blew and in what in any of circumstances would have been a perfect shot to 3 feet, rolled over the green. The crowd went “Ohhh, awww” as it rolled over. If the ball had landed a foot further or in either direction left or right it would have been a tap in birdie and he would have won. Over the green, he elected to putt instead of chip and he hit it too hard and it rolled 8 feet past. The mood around the event went from Oh my god this is happening to oh no. Watson missed the Par Putt and now had to play a playoff with Cink for the title.

However, it felt like it was already over most everyone knew Watson’s emotional gas tank was close to if not empty. The playoff was a formality as Cink won easily by six shots over the four holes, however understanding the circumstances as the two walked up to the 18th hole, Cink held back and allowed Watson to walk up to the green to a thunderest ovation on his own. The joke around the sports world for years to come has been nobody except Cink’s family was rooting for him. Watson tapped in on 18 and Cink applauded along with the crowd. After the round, Watson was in the press room where the atmosphere was so sad he leaned into the mic and said “This ain’t a funeral you know” Six years later Watson played the Open Championship for the final time at St. Andrews. Despite his five victories at the Open, his second place finish ten years ago might be what he is most remembered for. In what would have simply been the most incredible story in sports history.


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