Tom Watson has not said farewell to the Open Championship, but we’ve probably seen the last of him in Open competition at St. Andrews, the world’s oldest and most famous golf venue.
South African Louis Oosthuizen, 33 years Watson’s junior, led wire-to-wire and pulled away on the final day for an impressive seven-shot victory in the 150th anniversary year of the Open Championship.
It was the young Oosthuizen’s first major championship and the first time in 46 years that a player has won his first major at the Old Course at St. Andrews, known as the home of golf. Prior to this weekend, Oosthuizen had only made the weekend cut once in eight previous major championships.
Watson, one of professional golf’s grand champions, was not able to survive the second-round cut Friday at St. Andrews Links at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in Scotland. With a second-round score of three-over-par 75 in extraordinarily tough weather conditions, giving him a two-day combined total of 148, the 60-year-old Watson wasn’t able to make the weekend cut, thereby ending his chances of duplicating his storybook run at the Open Championship a year ago at Turnberry,
The Kansas City native came within one eight-foot putt last year at Turnberry of making golf history and winning his sixth British Open, which is the name by which most Americans know this major championship. Watson came to the 72nd green with a one-shot lead, only to miss his par putt that would have secured the championship and made him the oldest golfer to win a major championship. It was not to be, however, as fellow U.S. golfer Stewart Cink went on to defeat Watson in a four-hole playoff to capture his first Open title.
The five-time British Open champion put himself in a deep hole on the first day of this year’s Open Championship. On a day in which the always unpredictable conditions at St. Andrews’ Old Course couldn’t have been more ideal and more than half of the 156-player field broke par, Watson was only able to shoot an up-and-down score of one-over 73, which put him in 96th place after the opening round.
Watson knew he had his work cut out for him on Friday if he was to have the opportunity to play on into the weekend, when the field was cut to 77 players.
“This golf course was tough (today),” said Watson, with a definite look of frustration in his brow, after concluding what, in all likelihood, will be his final round at St. Andrews in an Open Championship.
Last year, in the Open Championshipat Turnberry, Tom
Watson came within a single, eight-foot putt on the 72nd
and final hole of becoming the oldest player to win a
major golf championship. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
“She (the Old Course) was naked today, but she put on her boxing gloves and hit us with all she had,” added Watson, who has always had difficulty at St. Andrews, finishing in the top 20 only once in the six Open Championships he has played at the legendary course affectionately known as the “Old Lady.”
Friday’s play at St. Andrews extended late into the evening, the result of a stoppage in play in the afternoon because of what was termed excessively strong winds, not an uncommon occurrence on Scottish seaside links courses. Despite the late hour, there were still several hundred spectators still on the course as Watson teed off on the 18th hole.
As the 39-time winner on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour approached the historic Swilcan Bridge on what would be his final memorable stroll down the 18th fairway at St. Andrews in this championship, appreciative applause and affectionate shouts of “We love you, Tom!” rang out from the crowd lining the nearby tee box and fairway. Watson stopped to give a nostalgic kiss to the picturesque stone bridge and paused atop the bridge for photographs and video shots, soaking everything in, just as fellow golf legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus had done in years past.
Twenty-seven-year-old Louis Oosthuizen from
South Africa led this year’s Open Championship
at the Old Course at St. Andrews from start to
finish, capturing the coveted Claret Jug for his first
major championship. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
It was a highly emotional moment for Kansas City’s greatest golf champion. “It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Watson told reporters afterward. I thought of Arnold (Palmer) on the bridge, and I thought of Jack (Nicklaus) on the bridge” and how their last Opens were right where Watson stood stoically on the finishing hole at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
Watson finished out his round on Friday with the same grace and champion style that has made him such a fan favorite all these years – over three decades – playing in the British Open Championship. He reached the green with his drive and, just missed an eagle putt, closing out instead one last birdie, the same as his longtime archrival and friend Nicklaus.
Said Watson: When I first played here (St. Andrews), I didn’t like it. But I learned to like it; and, eventually, to love it.”
Watson’s first British Open win came when he was 25 at Carnouste in 1975. He followed that up with Open championships in 1977 at Turnberry, at Muirfield in 1980, at Royal Troon in 1982 and a year later at Royal Birkdale.
With a winning record like that, it’s no wonder Watson looks forward each year to returning to Scotland and competing with the game’s best where golf was first played.
“The Scots invented golf, and they love the game with a passion unlike any other people. I enjoy that,” Watson said. “The main thing is the respect I have for the way the game is played here, and the respect that the people have for their game,” he added.
While golf fans were not able to see Watson in his familiar Scottish links habitat over the weekend, they were able to hear the special insights and stories of the golfing great as a member of the ESPN studio broadcasting crew.
“God willing, and if the creek don’t rise,” Watson said, he will be back to compete in future Open Championships. Because of the five-year rotational schedule for Open courses, however, Watson probably won’t be in the field the next time the championship is played at St. Andrews. Largely because of the Kansas City golf great, the Royal and Ancient now allows past champions to play in the Open Championship until they are 65, which in Watson’s case will not be until 2015.
Sean Casey and Nick Watney were the highest finishers from the U.S. in the Open Championship at St. Andrews this weekend. Both tied for seventh at six-under-par 282, 10 shots back of Oosthuizen. Tiger Woods ended up tied for 23rd, 13 shots off the pace.
For more information:
PGA Tour official website
The Open Championship official website
Related news coverage of Tom Watson
Open Championship history