What a heartbreaking weekend we witnessed at Turnberry this weekend. Tom Watson was on the verge of becoming the oldest golfer to win a major championship ever, only to have the rug pulled out from under him. It is unfortunate for Stewart Cink, who is a really nice guy and usually a fan favorite, that he had to beat Watson this weekend. Normally people would be much happier for him, but Watson was the obvious fan and sentimental favorite. In all though, Cink deserved to win and it couldn't have been more apparent than how each player fared on the 18th hole.
A golf tournament is a 72 hole affair. This fact worked to Tom Watson's advantage in 1977 when he birdied the 18th hole at Turnberry to defeat Jack Nicklaus in the "Duel in the Sun" to capture the British Open. Unfortunately, Turnberry was not so kind to Mr. Watson this Sunday. After hitting a perfect tee shot, he scalded his approach over the green and 3 putted his way into a playoff. As he calmly strided down 18, I'm sure he was thinking that he was about to make history. Unfortunately, this was not the case and he lost it.
On the other hand, Stewie Cink was coming off of the 17th hole upset at himself for missing a few birdie putts on holes prior. He probably thought that either Lee Westwood or Tom Watson were going to be hoisting the Claret Jug at day's end. He kept kept battling though, and managed to make a miraculous birdie on 18 that put him at -2 and made him the clubhouse leader. He then picked his ball out of the cup and gave it a 5 second frencher.
The 18th hole for each of these players said it all. Watson was riding the high of a seemingly surreal weekend and lost his focus, while Cink just kept grinding away though the odds were against him.
It would have been great to see Watson bring home the Claret Jug one more time, but I am happy for Cink also. Besides, this is Cink's first major while Watson has won the British Open 5 times before. There is no need to feel sorry for him.
What we can take from Watson's performance though is how great the British Open is. The course really levels the playing field. Every year it seems like there are a handful of well old dudes in the hunt. Meanwhile there are guys like Tiger Woods that fail to make the cut. Open courses really are the true test of a golfer in my mind.
Moreover, we can also see how difficult it is for an older player to win a major. Jack Nicklaus' Masters win in 1986 at age 46 still stands out in my mind as one of the most amazing wins of all time. We have seen several players come close (Watson at the British, Norman at the British, Perry at the Masters), but ultimately fall short at the finish line. Jack managed to make it all the way through for an improbable Masters win, and that is truly amazing.
Although I was pulling for Tom Watson all week, I really am happy for Stewart Cink and I am glad that we had such an entertaining weekend of golf. See, golf is still entertaining even if Tiger Woods is not playing!