I would like to welcome all to my first My Thoughts on the World of Sports blog. I originally had a different subject in mind, but this story is one of historical content. I will write about the 138th Open Championship (British Open) at Turnberry and the one compelling story of this Open, Mr. Tom Watson.
Tom Watson, age 59, challenged for the Open title this past weekend, turning back the hands of time with precision and accuracy and the magical putting touch that has define a fabulous career. His demeanor during his practice session on Sunday showed no signs of nervousness --- he did his stretches and hit balls as usual.
About five minutes before his tee time, the television camera was on Watson and his wife Linda in a brief conversation. Just as they were finishing, Linda gave Tom a nice little kiss for good luck. As he worked his way to tee #1, he received a loud ovation, one worthy of a five time Open champion.
As the leader, Watson was the last tee off, finding the center of the fairway with an iron, without any hint of anxiousness. Playing partner Matthew Goggin of Australia, hit his tee shot just in the left rough. Tom's approach was a poor iron shot landing in the left bunker. A sign of nerves perhaps? His shot from the bunker. His putt of about 7 feet was short right and suddenly he dropped from the lead as Englishman Ross Fisher birdied #1 in the group ahead to go to 4-under, with Watson at 3-under.
Watson's nerve would be tested immediately as Fisher holed an improbable pitch in from the left of the 2nd green to move to 5 -under and a two shot lead. Tom steadied himself with a par to remain two back.
The remainder of Tom's front nine was rather squirrelly … bogeys on holes 3 and 9 with a lone birdie on the easy par 5 seventh. Meanwhile, Lee Westwood forged the lead at 4-under which included a spectacular eagle 3 on the seventh for a 2 shot lead at 4-under while Watson was minus 2.
Watson's body language didn't change very much. However, his face seemed to show the wrinkles of a 59 year old man much more readily. One had to wonder if he was buckling mentally. The back nine would decide the story.
Tom Watson played very well on the back 9 … birdie on the par 5 seventeenth to take the lead, but an unfortunate bogey at the last to finish in a tie with Stewart Cink for a 4 hole playoff. His reactions? Tom was as calm, often a stern look at the competitors ahead with the notable exception of a terrific birdie on the 11th hole, a par three, in which he had a huge grin from ear to ear! Of course, there was the obvious disappointment on the 72nd hole, but his head was still up with the playoff upcoming.
Also on every tee shot and approach, Watson either folded his arms in front of him or had a hand in his wrist behind. Truly, a man within himself, very rarely showing outward emotion.
It was a very fatigued Tom Watson playing in the 4 hole playoff. His tee shots wayward, his approaches were often off line, and his putts were nowhere near struck as solidly. But, that happens as one approaches his 60th birthday. The disappointment was evident on the 17th green as Tom hacked the ball to the green and made double-bogey. Indeed, Tom Watson was trounced.
Watching Watson walking down the 18th fairway after another poor shot, it was quite evident that disappointment was overcoming him. But yet he showed the class that has always become him. He tipped his cap to the crowd and he congratulated The Champion Player of the Year, Stewart Cink. At the press tent, Watson showed he still had a sense of humor by telling press members that “This ain't a funeral, you know.”
No, Tom Watson did not win the British Open as he did in “The Dual In The Sun” against Jack Nicklaus in 1977 --- in fact he downright blew it, and he admitted as much. But my God, what a four wonderful days of golf played by one of the greatest golfers in the games great, great history. Let's not forget that Tom Watson has won 8 major championships, including 5 Open Championships.
Thank you Tom, you gave us great joy.
Well done Tom, well done.