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