Matthew Bates profiles the evergreen Tom Watson, arguably the greatest links golfer the game has seen. Back in July, veteran golfer Tom Watson was inches away from lifting the Claret Jug, and in doing so achieving arguably one of the greatest feats in sporting history. Walking onto Turnberry's 18th green with a one-shot lead, a par putt was all that stood in the way of the 59-year-old and victory in the Open Championship. The eyes of the golfing world were willing Watson on as he stood over the ten-footer, hoping to see the American's ball disappear into the cup. But the strike was weak and the ball drifted tamely away from the hole, leaving Watson in a playoff with fellow countryman, Stewart Cink. Cink had slipped under the radar with a solid final round of 69, and the momentum was in his favour after Watson's soft effort for victory on the 72nd green. And the miss proved to be vital, as fatigue set in and Watson gifted the trophy to the younger, fitter player after playing the four-hole playoff in four-over-par. But take nothing away from Cink. He did what he had to do, and did it well, especially considering it was his first major championship.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
Watson had opened up with a flawless score of 65, and after consolidating rounds of 70 and 71 he had gone into the final day ahead of the field - an astonishing feat in itself. And although Cink may have lifted the trophy on Sunday evening, it will always be remembered as Watson's Open. Had he holed that 10-footer on the 72nd, it would have been Watson's sixth Open and ninth major championship. He would have also become the oldest winner of a major championship by a country mile, eclipsing Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA Championship aged 48.
WATSON GETS EDUCATED ON AND OFF THE COURSE
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Watson's father introduced him to the game. In 1971, aged 21, Watson not only joined the PGA Tour after winning three consecutive Missouri Amateur Championships, he also attained a degree in psychology from Stanford University. He acquired the help of PGA Tour legend Byron Nelson who advised Watson on technique and course management, and in 1974 Watson won his first tournament, the Western Open. A year later, Watson would begin his glorious record at the Open Championship, winning at the very first attempt. Played over Carnoustie's tough links, Watson beat Australian Jack Newton in an 18-hole playoff by one stroke after shooting 71.
A GREAT RIVALRY IS BORN
When defending his title a year later Watson missed the cut, but in 1977 he showed that his victory two years earlier had not been a fluke. This time, his victory came after a last day showdown with legend Jack Nicklaus in what has become known as the 'Duel in the Sun'. And just like this year, the championship was played over Turnberry's Aisla course, clearly a setting that Watson thrives in. Both Watson and Nicklaus - who had won 14 of his 18 majors by this stage - carded identical scores of 68, 70 and 65 in the first three rounds, meaning they went into the final day three shots ahead of the field. And going onto the par-five 17th, they could still not be separated. However, after Watson had made a solid birdie after reaching the green in two, Nicklaus's birdie putt slid by the hole and Watson was one ahead. On the final hole, Watson found the fairway before perfectly connected with a seven-iron which came down a few feet from the flag. He threw his arms in the air, knowing Nicklaus's ball was some 40 feet from the hole. But Nicklaus had other ideas. He had the audacity to stroke his monster putt straight into the hole, forcing the pressure onto Watson's shoulders. Of course, he holed it, and the duel had its winner. Watson had already won the Masters earlier in the year, again fending off Nicklaus to take the coveted green jacket.
THE ACCOLADES ROLL IN
He failed to capture a major in 1979 but still managed to get his hands on a third PGA Player of the Year award in three years after winning five PGA Tour events. A year later he won his fourth in a row, becoming the only player to do so until a certain Tiger Woods came along 30 years later. The year also saw Watson pick up his third Open Championship, winning by a shot at Royal Troon Golf Club. However, there were still two majors to elude Watson - The US Open and the US PGA Championship. He would never win the latter competition, with a solitary second place in 1978 his best effort.
WATSON v NICKLAUS...AGAIN
it was not to be the same story with the US Open. In 1982, at the famous Pebble Beach course, the 32-year-old Watson was again involved in a final round battle with Nicklaus. This time, however, while Watson was out fighting his way round the final few holes of the links, Nicklaus was in the clubhouse after posting a superb 69 that included five straight birdies on the front nine. With the two greats all square at the top of the leaderboard, Watson walked onto the 17th tee needing a birdie from one of the last two holes to win outright. But his tee shot missed the green, leaving him with an awkward chip. At this stage, Nicklaus was confident he would at least find himself in a playoff with his rival, knowing that finding a birdie on one of Pebble Beach's difficult last two holes would be an extremely daunting challenge. Watson, however, knew that this was his chance to take his national Open. He didn't just knock the chip close on the 17th. He holed it. It was a remarkable shot, and a brilliant celebration by Watson, who ran and pointed at his long time caddie, Bruce Edwards. Come the 72nd hole, he was still on a high and found another birdie to win by two strokes.
THE OPEN MASTER
continued his dominance of the Open Championship later in the year, lifting his fourth Claret Jug. His fifth wasn't far off, either. It came in the following year, where at Royal Birkdale he won his eight and final major. During the second half of his career Watson struggled with short putts, and this was to be something that held him back. However, in July this year, Watson showed us that he still has it. Winning his sixth Open two months short of his 60th birthday would have been an unbelievable performance. It was not be. But speaking in a press conference after his playoff defeat, Watson said, "When all that is said and done, one of the things that I hope will come out of my life is that my peers will say, 'that Watson, he was a hell of a golfer'." Don't worry Tom. There is no one in golf who can deny you that.
- Matthew Bates for Golf.co.uk
Digital Sport Group's revenue is provided by the ads we show on our sites, we kindly ask you to white-list or disable your Ad-Blocker