Commonsense dictated that Tom Watson couldn’t win the Open Championship. Commonsense demanded that Watson’s putter, the cause of so much heartbreak over the years, could not continue to work so smoothly. Commonsense insisted that there are only so many 40, 50 and 60 foot putts a man can make in four rounds of golf. Commonsense tells you that Watson’s frailties inside six feet would reappear with an agonizing vengeance before the afternoon was over.
Commonsense was almost right. In the end, or rather, at the 72nd hole, it was an eight foot putt that missed the hole, leaving Watson exhausted, drained and in no fit state for a four hole play-off. There’s no good way to lose a major, but bogeying the final hole when par would have secured you the most astonishing victory in the game’s modern era is about as bad as it can get.
Yet pity poor Stewart Cink too. No one is likely to forget this Open but no one’s likely to remember the winner. It’s not often than the Champion Golfer of the Year is a sideshow at his own coronation, but that’s poor Cink’s fate. This will be remembered as the Watson Open; the year that time didn’t merely stand still but seemed to be rewound back to glory days of the late 70s and early 80s.
Watson’s record of five wins and a second in ten years established him as the greatest links golfer since Peter Thomson. I doubt, however, that there’s been a more popular American golfer in Scotland since Bobby Jones himself. Strange to think that a boy from landlocked Kansas would develop such a mastery of seaside golf and such an affinity with Scottish crowds.
But Watson has always been notable for his modesty and his sense of history in a game that, admittedly, sometimes over-prizes the value of that history. He has always seemed to understand that golf is not a game of fairness and that the test is how you react to the capriciousness of fortune. Not for Watson the easy whingeing that is the escape hatch favoured by golfers of lesser fortitude.
In the end, of course, it wasn’t to be. But the fairy tale was quite a ride while it lasted. It’s just a shame it couldn’t have gone on for one more putt. Just one. Then again, golf’s not really a sport for romantics. At heart, it’s a gloomy game for pessimists that magnifies shortcomings far more than it rewards or even recognizes strengths. So perhaps we were kidding ourselves all along and commonsense would, in the end, prevail. Perhaps so, but it was a late, late show and a damn close run thing.
So, yes, another runner-up finish in the Open for Watson. But, given the circumstances, it’s one that comes with an asterisk that elevates it to near-win status and helps confirm that 2009 will be remembered as the Year that Watson Almost Won, not the year that Cink did win or the year Tiger Woods missed the cut.
Photo credit: Getty Images