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The Watson Open

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Iain Carter | 10:36 UK time, Monday, 20 July 2009

"It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn't it?"

Tom Watson summed things up perfectly in the immediate aftermath of his ultimately failed bid to provide us with the greatest script in the history of golf.

In deed and then in word, the 59-year-old master dictated the story line in this never-to-be-forgotten week at Turnberry.

As the corporate types dragged their trolleys down the first fairway on a cool and windswept morning after the week before, you knew they would be talking about one man - and it wasn't the champion.

With all due respect to Stewart Cink, and he deserves plenty, Turnberry 2009 will always been known as the "Watson Open", even though the five-time champion couldn't quite claim his record-equalling sixth Claret Jug.

And those high handicappers entitled to take on the South Ayrshire links on the Monday morning after the Open will surely have begun their rounds believing anything was possible.

Watson's unlikely attempt to beat the golfing world proved that on a links course at least, the sport isn't just the power game preserve of gym monkeys.

This is also a game of strategy, guile, craft and nerve. Watson had the first three in abundance and only on the 72nd hole did the nerve bit desert him.

It is hard to describe the deflating, sinking (no pun intended) feeling that was brought about by Watson's missed eight-footer for the Championship. The high would have been so high - the like of which we have never seen before.

Had Watson won at 59, the achievement would have surpassed Jack Nicklaus's 1986 Masters victory at the age of 46 as the most romantic major win in golf.

That was surely the last time the game had anything that could come close to what Watson was doing at Turnberry.

And so there must be some sympathy for Stewart Cink. Has there ever been a less popular major winner? Nothing against the champion, it is just that everyone bar the American's family wanted so badly to see Watson walk away with the spoils.

But credit must go to the newest member of the major champion winning club. His birdie on the home green to set the target at two under par was marvellously constructed and executed.

It was Cink who ultimately seized the moment and then sailed through the anti-climactic play-off. To see Watson's challenge fade so dramatically in the four-hole shoot out was particularly sad.

There were those afterwards who claimed it should have been played over a matchplay format so that at least he could have shaken hands when the game was up rather than prolong the agony.

Of course that could never happen in a strokeplay event. And what about those who had resolutely held on to their seats on the 18th who would have been left with nothing to see?westwood595.jpg
By the time the end game was being played out Lee Westwood had long departed the scene, frustration having given way to sickness at the knowledge that his three putts on the home green had cost him a place in the play-off.

The Englishman is getting closer and closer. The quality of his ball striking is now second to none, but this once clinical finisher has to rediscover that quality if he is to finally get over the line in a major.

The cold hard fact is that he bogeyed three of the last four holes to miss out on a play-off by a single stroke. His inward half of 38 was the worst score over that stretch of holes of any of the contenders.

But I back Westwood to bounce back stronger for the experience. It will be tough, make no mistake, but he is as stubborn as they come and he'll need to feed off every ounce of that resilience to fulfil his undoubted potential.

Chris Wood also missed out on the shoot out by a single stroke after dropping a shot at the last, but as a 21-year-old in his first full year as a pro his circumstances are markedly different.

He can depart Turnberry head held high after playing a big part in this astonishing Open.

It was a fabulous tournament, one that will never be forgotten. But Wood, Westwood and even the champion Cink were bit-part players. We all know who the star was even if the last dramatic plot twist didn't go Tom Watson's way.


  • Comment number 1.

    I felt completely deflated after Tom Watson missed that 8 footer. I knew he would never win the playoff he looked tired , and quite right too at his age.
    Oh I wish his 2nd to the 18th had finished in the heart of the green !!!
    But he was already a legend in my eyes , and I for one cannot believe what he achieved at this open, I doubt if we will ever see a senior get so close to winning a major in the future.
    Please come back next year Tom and have another go :)

  • Comment number 2.

    It still IS "a hell of a story". Why do we insist on focusing on the fact that Tom Watson did not win the Open, rather than emphasising the fact that he came second?? How many 59 year-olds have ever come second in The Open? Isn't that a hell of a story?

  • Comment number 3.

    I said on the 606 forums I commented on how we seem to keep on getting these deflating finishes to the golf. We have these great stories about to have the perfect ending and then they fall flat. We've had Tom Watson so nearly win the Open, we've had David Duval and Phil Mickelson at the US Open, even the Masters felt slightly unfulfilling, what with the Mickelson/Woods charge falling apart right at the end and then Kenny Perry's explosion.

    In 2008 we had Greg Norman's perhaps predictable explosion on the final day, coming a month after an admittedly great story about the wounded Tiger, but Rocco Mediate go so close and yet still fall short.

    2006, we had Fred nearly win the Masters in his 40's and Winged Foot after Monty's disasters probably just pips this one in terms of the empty feeling after it.

    I am no way saying that those who did win didn't deserve it, but they have kind of spoilt the mood.

    Great dramas, flat endings.

  • Comment number 4.

    The top five of the final leaderboard contained a 59-year-old and a 21-year-old, wherelse would you find that in modern sport. What a brilliant championship.

  • Comment number 5.

    They say the R+A may relook at the age limit thing.

    I guess they might say:

    1. If an 060 former Champion makes the cut, they can come back next year.
    2. If an 060 former Champion finishes in the top 20, they can come back for 2 years.
    3. Top 10, 3 years.
    4. Top 5, 4 years.
    3. Top 3, 5 years.
    4. Wins it, 10 years.

    Think Tom Watson would be OK with that?

  • Comment number 6.

    The way is now clear for Tiger to add to his three open championships. He is the most likely to equal/overtake Harry Vardon IMHO.

  • Comment number 7.

    Agony!! Torn between Westwood and Watson for the back nine and then the deflation of the 18th undoing them both. As Cink has proved in the Ryder Cup he is a hell of a competitor who if he gets a sniff will not let up.

    Westwood must take something out of it, he has now contended inthree majors and must be worth a punt for the USPGA. As for Watson, he proved what we had probably all forgotten, a class atc both on and off the course.

  • Comment number 8.

    The Denver Post had it right.

    "Terrific Story Has Terrible Ending."

    No disrespect to Cink but he'll end up one of the least memorable Open champions of all-time. He'll be the trivia question, while everyone thinks of Watson.

    Harsh isn't it? But probably true. It's the hero climbing up the burning building, shooting the henchmen then...tripping over the steps, as his sidekick punches out the bad guy instead.

  • Comment number 9.

    Very sensible. But the R&A need to look at play-off hole choices too.

    One of the reasons this play-off fell so flat was that the players went back out into the guts of the course to start and there were no spectators.

    Choosing 5,6, 17 and 18 completely removed the players from the 'amphitheatre'- rendering the event wholly unexciting.

    A four-hole play-off is a great idea - better than sudden-death and more user-friendly than another full 18. But on this occasion, the 18th was reduced to walk up the fairway.

    No drama in that.

    By the way - Cink v Westwood. Big birdie to make the play-off, three-putt to miss it.

    British sporting mediocrity at its best.

  • Comment number 10.

    Interesting to see Watson shoot the green (not by much) on the 18th first time round, just like 17th at St.Andrews when Seve beat him. Just too much adrenaline and protection from the wind by the stands.
    When he was left with the 8 footer back for par, you could see he knew the putt couldn't find the hole. The putt was a snatched dribbler (just like we all do at critical moments).
    Very brave of him to take the pain of the play-off; he knew he had no reserves left to take Cink on.
    Honorary knighthood for services to UK sport for Tom, I reckon.

    Westwood's frozen hovering over the ball before each shot will cost him final day strokes at every major, when the pressure is on. He must get rid of it. Just like Furyk, Garcia, and 2 or three others, you can't have a manufactured element to your swing if you want to handle the pressure.

    (12 handicap -play scratch for 12 holes & duffer for the rest)

  • Comment number 11.

    You have to feel sorry for Cink, if there was any time he would have benn happy to lose, yesterday was probably it.

    I'm with leahelliemorris on this, it was still one hell of a story and I am so glad to have seen it unfold. The putts that Watson mades all week were extraordinary, the way he came back from the huge setback of five bogeys on Friday morning was incredible. And the way he conducted himself was exemplary, courteous, good humoured, Tiger could learn a lesson or two from that. Maybe he could also learn that it's not always necessary to thrash the life out of the ball - a smoothe swinger like Tom can still get it done.

    Watsons a legend and long may he compete in the Open. (They let Arnie doddle around Augusta long enough, surely Tom earned a few more Opens this week?)

  • Comment number 12.

    I, too, was cheering for Tom Watson and was gutted for him on the 18th..If only his ball had stopped on the putting surface...oh well :)
    But it did occur to me how utterly boring this Open would have been if not for the Tom Watson factor.
    Very poor golf from the so called greats of today. It took a master from the past to school the all.
    Well done to Stuart Cink, he seems a nice guy and I would bet even he was cheering for Tom at some point.

  • Comment number 13.

    Tom Waston won The Open he just lost the playoff.

    I think that's the way I'd like to remember the 138th Open.

  • Comment number 14.

    I was rooting for Tom, like everyone else, and it was awful to see that last putt - he knew he couldn't hole it, didn't he?

    couple of Qs though ...

    1. wouldn't a sixty year old winning have devalued the event?

    2. wouldn't a sudden death play off be a better way to settle things?

  • Comment number 15.

    To the chap who said Westwood's three-putt was "British sporting mediocrity at its best" don't forget the reason he three-putted was that he went all out for the birdie, which he thought he needed to beat Watson (and would have if Tom had holed that last one) and the ball ran on past. I would applaud that attitude.

    However, Cink won by making birdie at the 18th where Watson, Westwood and Wood made a bogey - you can't gib really.

  • Comment number 16.

    To Centrecup - "British sporting mediocrity" - surely not - disappointing as it was - Westwood is currently world ranked 14 -
    "mediocre" seems a very stupid comment!

  • Comment number 17.

    Every time Westwood gets near is another step nearer to eventually winning a Major.

    All the way round I was torn between supporting Watson and Westwood and then to see Cink steal it at the end was awful.

    But he won it by keeping his nerve while Watson, Westwood, Goggin and Fisher all lost theres and he should get a lot more credit than he is doing.

  • Comment number 18.

    I have to say apart from the playoff, this must the champion with the least TV coverage of his final round. Cink must feel he was the pantomime bad guy. He was the only one to handle the pressure on the 18th to be the deserved winner.

  • Comment number 19.

    I was absolutely gutted for Westwood, you can tell it would mean the world to him, he's definitely my favourite of the crop of English players.

    Obviously an English winner (being an Englishman) would be fantastic after 13 years without one, but with all due respect to the others, Casey, Donald, Fisher et al, for me it would be extra special if it was Lee that broke the collective duck.

    The event was a big anti-climax - Westwood's 3-putt, Watson's 8 footer and the heart-breaking sight of a legend with his years finally catching up with him in the play-off wasn't the ending we wanted.

    I won't begrudge Cink his win at all, just a bit frustrated that for once I didn't put my standard little wager on him!

    Can't wait for the USPGA!

  • Comment number 20.

    Post #17 is a bit unfair on Fisher. When a pro has such a horror hole as he did at the 5th, the bogies quickly mount up for most guys. Not Fisher, he was 2 over after 5 and 2 over after 18. Had bad luck with good putts at least twice.

    If anything let him down it was his judgement of what shot to play from the rough on the 5th - or even no shot and declare an unplayable lie. Hopefully the experience will teach him that, but he sure doesn't need lessons in holding your nerve.

  • Comment number 21.

    I had a couple of quid on Cink at 100/1 so never mind the sentimental victory for Watson, I for one was over the moon that we had an 'unpopular' winner!

  • Comment number 22.

    40 Majors since a UK winner, and that one was gift-wrapped by Monsieur Van de Velde.

    What has happened to the so-called golden generation? Westwood? Donald? Casey? Poulter?

    They are all talented golfers, no doubt, but there have to be serious questions about their mental strength.

    They are about to be blown aside as a generation of serial under-achievers as the likes of McIlroy, McDowell, Fisher, Wilson and Wood wash them away.

    I feel for Westwood and Donald. Nice guys the pair of them. I feel a little for Casey. Poulter though is fast becoming a pastiche who will be remembered more for his clothes than the quality of his golf

  • Comment number 23.

    Tom's final putt on 18 (in regulation) was agony.
    I think the biggest lesson the Brit's can learn was from Friday. Watson pushing 60 yrs. old hit the buffers quite early on...but calmly played his way back in with shot placement. The "unbeatable" Woods hit the buffers and growled and snarled and try to do almost anything to no avail.
    I don't think anyone seriously feared Watson on Friday, they probably *did* fear Tiger with this strange 'mystique' he holds. The spell is broken guys, just play the course not the name. *Believe* you can beat Tiger and you may just do that, *believe* you can win, the old master did until that final putt.

  • Comment number 24.

    Doncha love the line in today's paper - Stewart Cink, the man who shot Santa Claus?
    PS I stopped watching after Watson 3-putted 18, and, so I find out today, did many others. Only one person was ever going to win that play-off, and ultimately it was a dreadful anticlimax

  • Comment number 25.

    Like most, I felt that it was a shame that Cink had to beat Watson - but his win was no fluke and fully deserved. But, as a 63 year old, I got fed up with all the amazement that a 59 year old can still play golf, walk and cut up his own food. For heaven's sake, it's no great age, and golf is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. As for the Brits....Westwood, Wood and Fisher all seem to have what it takes. The others, Casey, Donald and Poulter do not.

  • Comment number 26.

    I was at Turnberry for the weekend, and the tide of emotion was definitely behind Watson. There we were at one point on the Sunday with 3 Brits in the top 5 ..but everyone was rooting for an American.!!

  • Comment number 27.

    Iain, I don't meen to be McAnal, but The Open is a Championship and NOT a tournament - there is a big difference!!

    Great work from you and the Beeb team this weekend!!

  • Comment number 28.

    Hats off to Tom Watson. He was a true gentleman even after loosing to Stewart Cink. Thanks to Tom, the 60+ and 70+ men are running around today with renewed energy and spring in their gait; I am sure my Dad is.

  • Comment number 29.

    The magic lasted 71.75 holes. Oh for a few inches. Could we not just once have a fairy-tale ending? I couldn't watch the play-off, already emotionally spent; and I sensed a certain inevitability about its outcome. If it was to be, it had to be on the 18th. Never mind, the week had summoned up the echoes of my youth as it brought back the memories of that sun-kissed finale in 1977 that I watched to the extent that TV covered things in those dark days. Thanks Tom for the memories.

  • Comment number 30.

    no-one can fault westwood for going for that putt at 18. A golfer can only control his own golf ball and any other good pro would have tried to make that putt thinking that if they missed it would cost them the open. In the end that wasn't the case but westwood surely must win one of the majors. I really thought that Watson was gonna win it on 18 it was so sad to watch that final putt and then the playoff. As for Cink he is a quality player and has only recently gone to the normal putter after using the belly putter for years and it held up under the pressure. He went unnoticed all week but his name was on the leaderboard most of the week.Well played to the guy.

  • Comment number 31.

    I guess it's the last time Tom Watson will get close to a Major, but he gave it a hell of a shot didn't he.
    In the end I think he was beaten by fatigue, the younger man rally couldn't lose over 4 holes.
    It will always be remembered as Watson's last hurrah, the American's say
    no - one ever remembers who comes second, this time Cink will be forgotten and , yes his name is on the Jug, but he will be like his personality an unplugged sink.... he'll disappear For me my strongest / saddest memory will be of Westwood bogeying 3 of the last 4 holes, bottling it or losing the plot, shame, I think his chance is gone also, wonderful talent, all the tools but closing out is his problem now.

  • Comment number 32.

    Thanks for the coverage on this site throughout a great tournament. A pity though that the golf "live text" is so lacking - I know there are difficulties but a golf fan doing it would be a good idea. Preferably Rob of course!

    Just one quibble: Your pundit's choice went almost unanimiously for Woods, the two exceptions for Kim and Poulter. All, of course, missed the cut. Don't see much point in such an article if there's no courage in the selections and no explanation of why they got it so wrong.

    Pundits? Sheep more like.

  • Comment number 33.

    Before this Open I always thought the player who finished with the lowest score was the worthy champion, no matter what. Now I'm not so sure. Tom Watson lead the Open from day one with all the pressure that entailed. Stewart Cink was never leading except when someone else made the mistake and was able to play the championship, and specifically the final 9 holes, with a nothing to lose attitude under the radar. In my opinion the quality of Tom's golf under the conditions he was experiencing was far greater than that of Cink. Tom's a legend. I admired him greatly before Turnberry - he just reminded why.

    I was also annoyed with Peter Allis's commentary. Whilst the wheels came off during the play off for Tom it was no way embarrassing. He was an inspiration, a class act. His dignity and contemplation even in gut-renching defeat is a stark contrast to the Tiger et al brat pack. Let's see a big more dignity like this, especially in events like the Ryder Cup.

    It was also refreshing to see a natural player and a quick one. No 're-modelling' of Tom's swing just brisk natural play. Take a look you Faldo'ites.

  • Comment number 34.

    I, like most of you, was rooting for Tom Watson from round one on and marvelled at the unfolding drama and sense of history surrounding the events that took place thereafter. However I wonder if it was unfair on Watson - and Norman before him - to be put through this emotional rollercoaster, to come so tantalisingly close to reliving past glories, then the prize being so cruelly snatched away. I prefer to remember Watson as the confident, charging champion that he was, rather than what he ultimately and so sadly became on Sunday evening. I believe the age exemption should be removed and champions allowed free entry for ten years full stop. That way they can enjoy parading their talents while at the top of their game and will not be tempted a la Player, Casper and now (and to an admittedly lesser extent) Watson, to open themselves to eventual despair and a show of public sympathy, the likes of which a great champion should not need to endure.

  • Comment number 35.

    madmusketeer - I think that, if you check the records, you will find that Watson ahs already won five Open Championships. Vardon's record is six.

  • Comment number 36.

    Got to disagree with etive68
    "better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all"
    what would the open have been remembered for if watson shot 73,73 and missed the cut? not much!!
    i was rooting for watson more than anyone but his age had nothing to do with him loosing the open - he hit a perfect 8 iron at the last that went a foot too long. age has nothing to do with it - many great champions have had chances to win more majors than they did throughout their playing careers - including jack nicklaus who finished 2nd in majors a record 19 times

  • Comment number 37.

    Saw Chris Wood walking down the street anonymously in Bristol on monday evening. Wouldn't have been able to do that if he'd won the Open!! Can't blame him for the last hole bogey as he'd had a dream round just to get to that point. Plus his second shot was massively unlucky to bounce through the green (210 yard 9 iron!! You're having a laugh Golf Gods!!)

    But Westwood must be crushed, English bottling at its very finest. To hit the shot of your life out of a fairway bunker and then hit the worst putts of your life within a minute of each other must be very hard to swallow. Not sure we'll see Lee up there again for a little while now. He still can't find that regular Tour victory that has been eluding him for nearly 2 years now, never mind the majors.

    To be honest it looks increasingly like Ross Fisher will overtake him as our best English hope for a major ..... contending every time now it would appear. Paul Casey only has the game for the Masters so don't think he's got as good a chance as Ross overall. Donald has too many weaknesses, Poults is just not quite classy enough to close one out and Justin Rose missed his best chance at the Masters in 2007 with that horrendous double-bogey at the 71st and don't think he'll get that close again.

    As a final comment ..... how good is Matteo Manassero??!!! He won't even turn pro for another few years as he wants to finish school first!! Hahaha!! Unbelieveable .... nothing more to achieve in the amateur game and he's only 16!! A wee bairn!! Bet the Walker Cup committee are wishing it was Britain and Europe instead of just Britain and Ireland!! Gutted!!

  • Comment number 38.

    Oh yeah .... and in response to the article .... Watson is a bona fide legend of the game. Nobody can take away what he has done already. I believe Nicklaus said of 1977 and the Duel in the Sun ... "I have never played so well and lost" ..... enough said really!! Cink has done superbly well but he's not good enough really to clean Tom's golf spikes (unless he wins 4 more Opens of course but I somehow doubt that)

  • Comment number 39.

    "No one remembers who finishes second".

    Watson has proved that in this case everyone will remember who finished second
    but few will remember who finished 1st!

  • Comment number 40.

    Tom Watson was a living legend before he stepped on to the first tee on day one of this championship. Having already won this championship five times he is a man with undeniable class dignity grace humility and outstanding ability and skill. His efforts at this championship demonstrate that the skills of golfers in the past surpass those of the current era who have been blessed with easy to hit drivers, a ball that goes too far and shafts that carry the ball miles. I tip my hat to the old man of golf and thank him for representing everything good about the great game of golf. What a legend !!

  • Comment number 41.

    I don't agree that Westwood will bounce back and win a major. His time came and went I'm afraid. You can be the best ball striker in the world but if your short game ain't up to scratch (Westwood) and you can't putt (Sergio), your game won't stand up on the biggest stage.

    Gutted for Chris Wood also. He came within a minute distance of the playoff and was easily playing the best golf of the contenders. I think he would have had a big shout had he sneaked into the playoff.

    No time for Stuart Cink I'm afraid. He will not win again on this stage and his victory reminds me of Todd Hamilton's. Nice guy but not a highly skilled golfer. Also, would it have hurt him to let Watson walk up the last first and enjoy the crowd's attention? I think that would have been a lovely gesture for Tom, who let's face it, had everyone apart from Mrs Cink and the kids rooting for him!


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