Moment of Claret-y

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2009, 4:00 pm
135th Open Championship TURNBERRY, Scotland ' It had been 15 years since Turnberry had hosted an Open Championship, and for good reason. For the fourth time the course, which clings to the craggy coast, produced copious amounts of high drama, history and heresy, not to mention 71 holes of near legendary proportion.
 
From the same shores that gave us Robert the Bruce and 1977s Duel in the Sun between a young Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, came four windswept and unprecedented days ' a Duel for the Ageless.
 
Its an unbelievable fairytale story, Padraig Harrington, who knows a thing or two about silver slippers, said of Watsons quest for a sixth Claret Jug.
 
Stewart Cink
Stewart Cink holds on tightly to the Claret Jug. (Getty Images)
But then this fairytale had a twist by way of a lanky Alabamian. For 71 holes the improbable inched closer to impossibly perfect with each flawlessly hit shot until Watson was ultimately undone by a familiar foe ' his putter.
 
Staked to a one-shot lead and eyeing the all-to-familiar 18th green from the middle of the fairway, Watson bounced his approach over the putting surface and failed to salvage a par to slip into a tie at 2 under with Stewart Cink.
 
Fifty-nine is still golfs magic number, but for all the wrong reasons.
 
The 59-year-old Watson made a mess of the playoff, starting with a bogey and ending, figuratively if not literally, his week with a double bogey-7 at the third extra frame. He picked a bad time to start missing the middle of the clubface.
 
They go 54 holes on the Champions Tour for a reason, and 76 proved to be four too many for the toothy hero of Turnberry.
 
By the time Cink eased onto the 18th green in the playoff he had the look of a man who had just crashed a party thrown in someone elses honor and Watson, who played 71 holes like a 39-year-old, finally began looking his age.
 
Dream almost came true, sighed Watson, who closed with a 2-over 72, his highest card of the week.
 
Nicklaus recently said his 77 loss to Watson at Turnberry was the best hed ever played without winning. Watsons effort on the Ailsa Course this week may be the best anyone has ever played without cashing gold.
 
Watson, who went to bed in the grand hotels Watson Suite each of the previous two nights with the lead, was impossible to dismiss even when he began his final round bogey-par-bogey to slip out of the top spot.
 
From there, he appeared to answer all challenges, first from Ross Fisher followed in order by Lee Westwood, Chris Wood and Mathew Goggin.
 
Jeremy Kavanagh, a young Brit who lucked his way into a Tuesday practice round with Watson, ventured to a nearby horse track Monday night and eyed an entry named Whaston.
 
I put 5 pounds on her at 16 to 1 and hit, Kavanagh said. The next day I told Tom and he said, Maybe that name has a lucky ring to it this week.
 
For the better part of four days, it felt more historic than lucky.
 
After battling with Westwood and Goggin down the stretch, Watson put what appeared to be the tournament out of reach with a birdie at the 17th and a one-stroke lead.
 
But then Cink, as sentimental as the next, had a plan of his own.
 
Amid a cacophony of misses and messes, with the leaders peeling away with each gust, Cink went blank and rolled in a 15-footer at the 72nd hole to sign for one of just six birdies at the closer and a final-round 69, a full hour ahead of the pack, to post 2-under 278.
 
Its the kind of putt that had eluded Cink for much of his career.
 
After ditching his long putter two months ago and enlisting the services of sports psychologist Dr. Morris Pickens, Cink came across from the United States early, took his knocks on three of Irelands finest links courses to prepare and shouldered into the final round three shots out of the lead.
 
I actually believed I could win this tournament starting today, Cink said. In the past I wouldnt have done that.
 
History will note Cinks birdie at the 72nd hole as the catalyst to victory, but it was a missed 2-footer on the seventh hole Saturday for bogey that set his victory march in motion.
 
I missed and I didnt let it get to me, Cink said. That was one of the moments that was pivotal.
 
Cink went on to post a 71 in Round 3 and weathered a pair of late miscues Sunday on Nos. 14 and 16 to put himself in position to end Watsons fairytale.
 
Lost, however, in a playoff that seemed to suck every breath of air out of the Firth of Clyde was Cinks ball-striking exhibition.
 
He scrambled for par at the first extra hole; two-putted at the second to keep his lead; and rifled his second at the par-5 17th to 40 feet, while Watson was making hay down the left side of the fairway, to put the title out of reach. His towering approach at the 18th rolled to 3 feet for an apropos birdie.
 
He needed one here, said Cinks caddie, Frank Williams. He wont admit it, but Im sure Southern Hills (the 2001 U.S. Open and site of Cinks closest brush with major glory before Turnberry) is still in his mind and a lot of other peoples minds as well.
 
In Cinks defense, there were no shortage of rally killers looking to spoil Watsons wonderful ride. On Sunday the grounds of the former World War II airstrip had the look of rush hour at JFK.
 
Fisher, the lean Englishman with an overdue wife, ran in birdies at the first and second holes to move to 5 under early, but his title chances unraveled like a modern dance step ' hay, hay, hay, drop ' when he went from the rough to the rough to the rough at the fifth for a quadruple bogey-8.
 
Westwood held at least a share of the lead as late as the 16th hole, but the perennial major bridesmaid pitched his approach long at the demanding par-4 16th and missed an 18-footer for par to slip to 1 under and never recovered.
 
Tasmanias best hope for a major ended when Mathew Goggin bogeyed the same hole a few minutes later.
 
Wood, a 1,500-to-1 long shot when the week began, looked to trade his 08 silver medal (for winning low-amateur honors last year at Royal Birkdale) in for the gold version presented to the Open champion, finishing at 1 under with two birdies over his last four holes. But he finished tied with Westwood, one shot out of the playoff.
 
An Open that was unkind to favorites, sentimental or otherwise, went to the Tours favorite Twitterer.
 
In the end, Watson won the senior division, and Cink the tournament proper, his first major and his first victory since last years Travelers Championship.
 
But then the enormity of the situation was not lost on Cink. Far from it. We thought Jack Nicklaus had hung the moon when he won the Masters at 46, Cink said. This is 13 years on from that. . . . I dont feel ashamed. I dont feel disappointed.
 
Given the gravity of his historic run, neither should Watson.
 
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