It wasn’t his last British Open. Not after he received a five-year exemption for last year’s playoff loss to Stewart Cink at Turnberry.
But Tom Watson played his final competitive round at the Old Course on Friday, and he finished with a flourish – coming within inches of holing a chip for eagle on the 18th hole.
Minutes earlier Watson had taken the traditional walk across the Swilcan Bridge, pausing for photographs as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, among other greats of the game, had done before him. Before he set foot on the bridge, though, the five-time Open champ bent over and kissed the old and weathered stones.
“I thought of Arnold on the bridge, I thought of Jack on the bridge, and their last Opens were both right here at St. Andrews,” Watson said later. “My last Open is not right here, the good Lord willing, the creek don't rise, as they say, and I have a few more years left thanks to the R & A's special exemption for me.”
The 60-year-old Watson has never won a British Open at St. Andrews, but his affection for the Old Course grew with each time he played there. Even on Friday when the conditions were brutal, and he likened the course to a boxer, saying “This was a hard test today.”
“When I first played here I didn't like it,” Watson said. “I didn't like the blindness of the golf course and the bumps and the humps and the way it bounced. I learned to like it and eventually to love it. It's just you have to accept the luck of the bounce and the way the game is played on this golf course.
“And it tests you, it really, really tests you.”
Watson joked with the adoring crowd on the 18th hole Friday as he surveyed his tap-in birdie. “Is this a gimme,” he asked, joking, and if the truth be told the fans would have given him a putt 100 times that length. He has always been a favorite here in Scotland, and that will continue next week at Carnoustie as he plays in the Senior British Open.
“I think the main thing was the respect I have for the way the game is played over here, the respect that the people have for their game,” Watson said. “The Scots invented golf, and they love the game with a passion unlike any other people. I enjoy that.” – Helen Ross
The horn has just sounded to signal the end of play on Friday.
Ten groups will return on Saturday morning at 6:30 to complete their rounds. Tiger Woods won’t be among them – he was on the 18th green when the horn blew and narrowly missed his eagle putt.
Tom Watson, meanwhile, had just hit his tee shot on the 18th hole. The 60-year-old stopped as he reached the Swilcan Bridge and kissed the weathered old stones, then walked halfway across and stopped for the photo op like all the great players before him.
The crowds cheered as Watson walked up the fairway to his drive. He nearly holed his chip for eagle but nonetheless went out in style with the tap-in birdie. – Helen Ross
The Senior British Open will be played next week at Carnoustie, and judging from early results at St. Andrews, Mark O’Meara would have to be among the favorites.
O’Meara made five birdies and two bogeys on the way to a 69 that left him the low Champions Tour player at the British Open. Mark Calcavecchia fired a 70 while Tom Lehman had a 71, Nick Faldo and Tom Pernice Jr. shot 72s and Loren Roberts, Peter Senior and Tom Watson each had a 73.
By the time he reached the fifth hole on Thursday, Tom Watson had bogeyed three straight. Not even the birdie he got there could turn things around as the 60-year-old finished with a 73.
"I got off to a sluggish start ... and never really got going after that," Watson said. "I had some makeable putts. Got a birdie at five but didn't really get the ball in the hole as well as I could have and didn't hit the ball as well as I should have.
"So it was a difficult day for me."
But Watson said he didn't feel any more pressure this week given his Cinderfella run to the playoff at Turnberry in 2009. "I am just not playing quite as well as I was this time last year," the five-time Open champ said simply.
With surprisingly sunny skies and virtually no wind, Watson knew the Old Course was going to be at its most generous on Thursday. But the next three days should prove the equalizer.
"It was there for the taking but what is going to happen is that the wind will start this afternoon and then it's going to blow hard tomorrow and the next three days," Watson said. "What she gave away this morning, she will take away the next three days and it will be a wonderful test of golf." -- Helen Ross
The Old Course is definitely at her most generous today. There are 58 players on the storied links right now and only 10 are over par for the day.
Some of the names are surprising. Two-time British Open champion Padraig Harrington is 2 over through three holes, as is the sentimental favorite, Tom Watson, who has won five Claret Jugs but never at St. Andrews.
Tim Clark, who won his first PGA TOUR event earlier this year at THE PLAYERS has played seven holes and is also 2 over. So is the 2001 Open champion, David Duval, who has just made the turn. – Helen Ross
It didn’t hit him until his approach at the 18th found the bunker. Then, and only then, did Tom Watson allow the moment to sink in.
Father’s Day. His son Michael on the bag. At Pebble Beach.
For the last time at a U.S. Open.
Watson choked back the tears as he took in the beauty of the waves lapping at the beach in Stillwater Cove. As he and Michael made that walk to the green. As the crowds welcomed a special player to a very special place for what’s likely the final time.
“It was overwhelming today coming up the 18 th hole,’’ said Watson, who closed with a par, a 76 and an 11-over-par 295.
Yes, it was. The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and winning here with longtime friend Sandy Tatum. The 1982 U.S. Open. Really all the U.S. Opens here. The 1977 PGA too. His dad winning the Crosby Clambake in the California Desert at Rancho Santa Fe.
Like he said, a special place. History.
And at 60, his last chance to place this course in a major.
“I owe a lot of ‑‑ probably most of what I have to my dad as far as my ability to play golf,’’ Watson said. “My love for the game, my passion for the game, my ability to play the game, that came from my dad.’’
His dad always said Pebble had the three best par-4s in a row – the eighth, ninth and 10 th.
“They call them the Cliffs of Doom now,’’ Watson said. “I think that's a little bit over the top, but they're just three beautiful par‑4s. I didn't play them too well today.
“But I did make a birdie at 9, and I did make a birdie at 8 today; and so I birdied 9 ones and 8 ones in the eight attempts at those holes. So pretty happy with that. ‘’
Pretty happy, period, to be the only player to have played in all five U.S. Opens here. Watson, who was given a special exemption this year, made the cut in all but one – 1992 – and hit the shot heard round the world in 1982 when he chipped in at the 17 th to win his first major.
He had a chance to finish with a birdie. Marvelous bunker shot. Not so marvelous birdie attempt. But the par putt swirled around the hole and fell in.
“I drew a blank on the putt,’’ he said, “and pushed it out there and made it coming back.’’
Watson more than held his own this week. He held his head as high as he at Turnberry last year when he came within one hole of becoming the oldest man to win a major. Instead, he lost the lead on the 72 nd hole and lost a playoff to Stewart Cink.
The crowds gave him an ovation on almost every hole. Their smiles and cheers reminded him of what he’ll miss.
“There's a lots of sadness today,’’ he said. “A lot of sadness. Yet it's based on a lot of memories and great memories that I've had here, and it very well may be my last time playing Pebble Beach in a championship of this caliber probably.’’
Now that this major is done, Watson’s schedule calls for four more in a row – the British Open, at St. Andrews, the British Senior Open, the U.S. Senior Open and the Tradition. And he said he needs to get his game in gear.
“I need to start playing a little bit better than I am right now,’’ he said. “I just am a little bit off, and I just didn't have good control this entire week even though I shot a couple good middle rounds. It was done somewhat with smoke and mirrors and a lot of experience playing Pebble Beach.
“I didn't hit the ball with the irons and put it in play enough times off the tee on the back nine, and it cost me. It cost me a lot of shots. ‘’
He wasn’t alone. Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson. Ernie Els. Dustin Johnson. The list goes on.
And no one knows the pressures of an Open as well as Watson. Especially here.
“It really is everything is on the line, the pressure's as high as it's going to get and you're playing a very, very difficult golf course,’’ he said. “Can you handle it? Can you handle it?
“I mean I've been in positions, and I couldn't handle it. Fortunately, I was in the position one time when I could handle it. And it was ‑‑ it's what we're out here for. It's what we're out here to play golf for is to play in championships such as the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.’’
He smiled through the questions. Pausing every so often to compose himself a bit. You had the feeling the tears would flow later. In private.
But in typical Watson fashion, he finished the round off by tossing his golf ball into the ocean. Just like he did in 1982.
“What you do, you give the ocean its due because you never know when it's going to take it from you,’’ Watson said.
“I've hit it into that ocean off the tee a few times, and throwing the ball in the ocean is kind of a thank you for not taking it one more time.’’ -- Melanie Hauser
Tom Watson, the only golfer to play in all five U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach, said the leaders are going to be challenged on the greens late in the day.
"These greens are like putting over a herd of turtles," Watson said after shooting a 1-under 70.
"The greens are going to be tougher. The backs of those turtles get higher and higher. And the winds will come up and it will dry out the lower parts of these greens. The higher parts will rise up and ... it will get more bumpy."
Added Brandt Snedeker, another early finisher: "The greens are definitely growing with this sunlight. It's going to be fun this afternoon with these guys. It's going to be a hard day for them.
"The greens are starting to grow. They're going to get bumpy. They've got some borderline pins out there, I should say to be politically correct. But they're going to be playing really, really tough this afternoon."
Tom Watson, the 60-year-old who's the only player to participate in all five U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach, carded his best round of the tournament, a 1-under 70 that leaves him at 6 over for the tournament.
Watson, who made the cut on the number Friday, had his best stretch of the week on Saturday when he birdied the drivable par-4 fourth to begin a string of four birdies in nine holes. At that point, he was 3 under for his round.
But he dropped a couple of shots coming in, including a bogey at the 17th when he hit a poor chip from just off the green. He then missed a makeable birdie putt at the 18th.
"I flubbed the chip," Watson said about his shot at the 17th. "I had a chip that was in the loose fescue grass around there. It's unpredictable and I tried to hit and expose a shot and it went about a foot.
"... It was kind of a disappointing finish because I bogeyed 17 and missed the birdie at 18. But all in all, I'm very happy with shooting 70 here at Pebble Beach."
TOM WATSON'S ROUND 3 STATISTICS
|Driving distance||Fairways hit||Greens in regulation||Putts needed||Sand saves|
|289.5 yards||9 of 14||12 of 18||30||0 of 1|
The 54-hole leader/co-leader has won 48 times, most recently Tiger Woods in 2008.
The third-round leader/co-leader has gone on to win 11 of 24 stroke-play events on the PGA TOUR this season, most recently Jason Day at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.
Third-round leads of the previous four U.S. Opens hosted at Pebble Beach Golf Links:
|2000||Tiger Woods||8-under 205||10 over Ernie Els|
|1992||Gil Morgan||4-under 212||1 over three players|
|1982||Bill Rogers, Tom Watson||4-under 212||2 over four players|
|1972||Jack Nicklaus||Even par 216||1 over three players|