Monday, July 20, 2009

British Golf Open: Cink Won British Open, But Lost With Watson

By the time Tom Watson his legs shot butchered the 3rd playoff hole handing the Claret Jug to Stewart Cink and then sent his tee shot on the final hole sailing into the stands.

Those 4 holes will rank in the annals of sporting cruelty along with leaving Willie Mays in center field when he could no longer shag a fly ball, letting Joe Namath heave interceptions for the Rams or, worst of all, standing by while the great Ali was pummeled by unworthy hacks like Trevor Berbick.

Thomas Sturges Watson was to author a real-life fairytale and the greatest story in golf betting odds, a 59-year-old winning a sixth British Open and his first major since 1983. And in doing so, he was to single-handedly prove to us that the years can not always weary our heroes.

When Watson strode to the 72nd green through the wind and sunshine of a pleasant Sunday on the Scottish coast, standing on the precipice of sporting immortality, by God, he was walking for all of us. He had fought with the heart of a lion to be there, holding a one-stroke lead with a hole to play and needing just a par to make history.

When his 8th iron hit the 72nd green, immortality was to have become a formality. Two putts to win. And then, the angel which had been on Watson's shoulder for four days suddenly deserted him.

Somehow, Watson's ball kept rolling. His playing partner, Australian Matthew Goggin, said later he thought Watson had hit "a perfect shot."

But had he, for once, misjudged the weight? He'd been so good for four days, relying on guile and wisdom and memories, in playing a style of golf which can be so treacherous.

His ball wouldn't stop. It scurried past the hole, then trickled over the bank at the back of the green. It came to rest in a clump of grass. A few inches closer, and he could've comfortably two putted, Goggin guessed. A few inches longer, and Watson could've chipped it close from a better lie.
And that's when Tom Watson lost his nerve. That's when he betrayed his age and the long years it's been since he'd been a golfer capable of winning majors.

Watson chose to putt the ball. Once the greatest of chippers in his heyday, in his moment of truth, he put his trust in the one club which prematurely ended his golden years.

As it was, he hit the putter too firmly. It went eight feet by, to the left of the hole. Everyone gasped. Eight feet to immortality was eight feet too much. "Made a lousy putt," Watson later bemoaned.

The playoff against Cink, who through no fault of his own was the villain of the piece, was a nightmare.

With Stewart Cink, who'd made a remarkable birdie on the last hole to get to 2-under par in the greenside bunker on the first playoff hole, Watson from the middle of the fairway hit a fat five iron into another trap.

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