ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Tom Watson desperately would love to muster one last charge at the home of golf. The Scottish fans would love to see a performance that mirrors last year’s at Turnberry. A better ending would suffice, too.
Is it possible for Old Tom Watson to find the magic at an Open Championship one more time?
When Watson takes to the first tee Thursday morning with Padraig Harrington and Ryo Ishikawa it will be for his seventh Open Championship at the Old Course, but likely his last here. He has an exemption through the 2014 at Royal Liverpool and would need to do something special to make it back here to St. Andrews for the 2015 championship.
Anything indeed is possible, as Watson has shown us over the past 52 weeks. He’s wowed galleries at just about every turn beginning with his Open performance at Turnberry last year. There he arrived with memories of winning the Duel in the Sun – the famed slugfest against Jack Nicklaus in 1977 – and nearly created more memories as he was the leader standing on the tee of the 72nd hole, but ultimately lost to Stewart Cink in the four-hole playoff.
Less than a month ago Watson, 60, playing on a special exemption, arrived at Pebble Beach for what could be his final U.S. Open. An opening-round 78 made him a virtual afterthought until he shot 71 in the second round to make the cut on the number, then followed it up with a third-round 70 to get him into the top 20. He shot 76 and tied for 29th place.
Point is this man just never ceases to amaze.
“I never think about my history at the Open,” Watson said. “What I think about is I’m still here as a competitor to try to play the golf course the best I can, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Watson contends that his ballstriking is not as crisp as it was a year ago, although it was getting better during each of his three practice rounds. His wish is to hit nine out of every 10 shots the way he prefers rather than the 50-60 percent range he’s been stuck in since Sunday. He is pleased with his putting, which is the one thing that kept him from winning more major championships over the years. He’d have won at Turnberry last year had he converted a par putt from 8 feet.
“Every time I play with him I see that it’s possible [for Watson to contend] because he hits the ball very solidly, and I think if the wind blows, if it blows a lot and the course is dry and firm, that’s when Tom Watson has the best chance,” said Cink, who played a practice round with Watson Monday at Watson’s request. “He has a very good head on his shoulders and his swing is standing the test of time before all of our eyes.”
Watson is perhaps the best links player in the history of golf, having won the Open Championship five times on five different golf courses. But the one glaring omission – if there is such a thing from a man with his resume – is that Watson never won an Open on the Old Course. His second attempt was the closest in 1984, but he shot 73 in the final round and lost by two shots to a hard-charging Seve Ballesteros. Watson hasn’t finished better than a tie for 31st place in his next four championships here.
“When I went out to play on Sunday, it was like I was playing it all over again for the first time,” Watson said. “St. Andrews is a hard course to understand, and you have to relearn it and relearn it and relearn it all the time. That’s how I felt on Sunday and then Monday and yesterday. The same feelings come back.”
He’ll need to rely on all those past feelings of joy and find a way to dig deep this week, as the windy, rainy conditions will make contending a much more difficult task.
Following his performances at last year’s Open Championship and this year’s Masters and U.S. Open, it will be a tall task to expect Watson to provide one more thrill for the golf masses.
“There are certain places that I’ve enjoyed over my career where I’ve played and had some wonderful experiences,” Watson said. “Obviously the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach was at the top of my list. Playing at Augusta, I’ve had success there. It’s been a very special time.
“And here at St. Andrews, it would be a great triumvirate if I did well here at age 60.”