“Hey, this ain’t a funeral, you know,” Watson said as the media filed into his press conference.
That was the second time he’d been wrong yesterday — the first coming when he picked an iron that would result in a shot that landed on the 18th green as opposed to one that would bounce the ball up from short of the surface. I don’t think there was anyone yesterday who didn’t want Watson — one of the game’s greatest players — to win again at the age of 59. Though the best comparison might have been Ben Hogan who remained a force in majors until his mid-50s, coming close a couple of times, Hogan was always cold and distant. He was easy to admire, but hard to love. Not so with Watson. It is just too bad he chose an unusual time to make a really big mistake, then compounding it with a bad uphill putt from behind the green and a final shot with the flatstick — and let’s be honest here — where it looked like his age finally caught up with his nerves.
I actually thought Watson might pull it off — especially after making birdie on 17 to take a one-shot lead. It was clear from the limited television coverage of Stewart Cink that no one thought he’d win. He backed into the lead only after Watson fumbled and Lee Westwood made a ridiculous blunder on the final green, proving that putting under pressure isn’t just linked with age. A bomb can go off in your hands in your 30s or 50s, apparently.
Throughout it all, Watson was a class act. He demonstrated how to hold yourself while in the lead, smiling and clearly enjoying himself, and also showed his character when you lose a heartbreaker. You have to love his response about Cink’s win:
But I congratulate Stewart. It was a tough day to play. It’s a difficult golf course, crosswinds, getting the right weight, which I prided myself, I just didn’t do it in the last hole. I hit the shot I meant to, and when it was in the air I said, “I like it.” And then all of a sudden it goes over the green, and I just didn’t get the job done after that.
But the crowds were just wonderful to me all week. You were wonderful to me all week. It reminds me of what it used to be like when you played the big Tour, played the kids’ Tour and were in contention all the time and the responsibilities that you had, that you have, to take care of business.
My hat goes off to Tiger for what he has to go through on a weekly basis with all the things pulling at him, as much as he wins and as much as he’s in the limelight.
With that I’ll open it up to questions. Anybody like to know anything?
“Anybody like to know anything?” — remarkable. His hat can go off to Tiger, but rest assured that Woods would not have offered up as much of himself had he just lost in a playoff.
That’s the question I want you to answer — was Watson’s near win good for golf? To my way of thinking it surely was and would have been even more positive had he won. The game focuses so much on Tiger Woods that it sometimes turns people off of the sport. Watson’s play brought out the dreamer in all of us — including himself.
“It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn’t it?” Watson said in the press room after the round. “It would have been a hell of a story. It wasn’t to be. And yes, it’s a great disappointment. It tears at your gut, as it always has torn at my gut. It’s not easy to take.”
That’s where he’s wrong — it was a hell of a story. A remarkable one.
The Scottish crowds certainly appreciated what he was doing — and in turn Watson appreciated them.
Q. Taking the whole occasion as a whole, is there one abiding memory you’ll take away from this week?
TOM WATSON: The one memory? Well, I think coming up the 18th hole again. Those memories are hard to forget. Coming up in the amphitheater of the crowd and having the crowd cheering you on like they do here for me.
As I said, the feeling is mutual. And that warmth makes you feel human. It makes you feel so good.
It made me feel good — that is for sure — and I bet it made some of you feel pretty great as well.
Note: I’m at the Canadian Open all week, where I’m writing for Sympatico’s golf site. I’ll be posting some notes here, and pointing you to the Sympatico site and my Twitter account. I can smuggle my Blackberry out at the Abbey — so I’ll do some short real-time posts there.