HOWARD WARD: One for the Aged: Watson Turns Back Clock
BY HOWARD WARD
For one glorious four-day period, Tom Watson was Tom Watson again. It was a real-life back-to-the-future moment.
For all of us with gray in our hair, wrinkles on our faces and yips in our golf swings, it was a sweet visit to yesteryear when we were young and carefree and able to make a golf swing without the pain of aching joints.
Tom Watson almost pulled one off for the aged. Closing in fast on 60, Watson turned the British Open Champion-ship into a remake of the movie, "Cocoon".
When it was over and Stewart Cink had ended all our dreams with an improbable birdie on the 72nd hole and a brilliant four-hole playoff performance, there was little we could do other than sag back into our recliners and feel the heartbreak that the unblinking cameras showed on Watson's face as he struggled down the final fairway.
No, Tom Watson really wasn't 33 again. It just seemed that way for a few days. Once again he was displaying the nerves of the young warrior that had battled head-to-head with a fading Jack Nicklaus more than a quarter of a century ago.
Ironically, Watson was playing the villain's role for me in those days as I cheered for Nicklaus against the young upstart who dared to challenge the Golden Bear.
This time, it would have made no difference who the other player in this drama might have been. This was Tom Watson's final day in the sun and he was so close to doing the impossible. He is 59 years old, almost 60, and he was playing golf like a 29-year-old.
We watched for four days as the guy we always liked to refer to as a Huckleberry Finn look-alike battled the impossible odds. He was such a non-factor that the bookies had him rated as a 1,000-to-one underdog. Most of us wouldn't have risked a dollar.
Frankly, Tom Watson isn't even much of a factor on the Champions Tour anymore. He's been playing with the seniors for almost 10 years now and he's obviously about ready to end a career that has been matched by only a few of the game's greatest players.
Watson challenged Nicklaus at a time when Jack was undeniably the best in the game. He was PGA Tour Player of the Year six times, played on five Ryder Cup Teams, and won 39 Tour events including two Masters, a U.S. Open and five British Opens. It was the head-to-head confrontations with Nicklaus that cemented Watson's legacy as one of the game's all-time great players.
One of the most memorable duels between the two came at Turnberry, the site of this year's Open, in 1977. Watson and Nicklaus were tied after 36 holes and played together in the final two rounds. Nicklaus shot 65-66 and Watson shot 65-65 to win by a stroke.
They still call this one the "Duel in the Sun."
It that was the "Duel in the Sun," then this one has to have been the "Duel in the Twilight." Watson didn't win this one. A very deserving Stewart Cink did.
But Huck Finn won our hearts. And when he missed that less than bold stroke on the 72nd hole that could have made him the oldest man ever to win a major championship, our hearts ached for him and with him.
But he was there and for one final shining moment in the sun he was Tom Watson again and he almost brought home the Claret Jug.
Golf is such a cruel game. Golf is such wonderful, sweet game.
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