I got the biggest goosebumps while watching last year’s British Open once Tom Watson teed off on the 18th hole. After Watson hit the fairway and was a par away from winning his sixth British Open, ABC showed a graphic of players with the most major championships. That’s when it hit me that a 59-year-old Watson could actually climb that list and win his ninth major.
How is that possible? The idea was just as foreign to me as thinking Jack Nicklaus could still win a 19th major. Watson won eight majors. Past tense. It’s in the history books. It’s a fixed list. He’s sandwiched between Ben Hogan and Gary Player (nine titles), and Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Gene Sarazan and Sam Snead (seven). (Jones also won six amateurs, giving him 13 majors by most counts.)
Then reality hit, nudging what what appeared to be a British Open-clinching approach shot over the green for a not-so-simple up-and-down. And we all know what happened after that. Watson hit a nervous par putt for the win that never had a chance, and he lost to Stewart Cink in a playoff.
It was depressing. We knew that we were watching something so rare, so impossible, that we could never hope for Watson to redeem such a crushing loss. He was never supposed to be in that position in the first place.
But after watching his play in the last year, I can’t help but think that there is a glimmer of hope for a repeat. He shot an opening 67 at this year’s Masters to put him one stroke off the lead. Watson still finished tied for 18th at Augusta, even though it’s a course where he feels he has no chance to win.
Watson was a popular sentimental pick at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open because of his win there in 1982, and despite a first-round 78, he flirted with a top 10 before finishing tied for 29th.
So can Watson conjure up more magic at this year’s British Open?
“Ask me Wednesday,” Watson said. “I don’t have my arsenal firing right now. My iron play is sketchy right now. I’ve got to see if I can get it homed down.”
Unlike last year’s British Open site at Turnberry, Watson has never won at St. Andrews. And the Old Course has been a bit of a bomber’s paradise of late, with Woods and John Daly winning the last three British Opens held there.
“The conditions have to be right,” Watson said. “I have to be firing on all cylinders. That’s one thing I learned early in life. I didn’t have to fire on all cylinders to win. I could just think my way around the course early in my career and still win. But the older you get, the shorter you get.”
We’ll ask Wastson again Wednesday, and see how it goes Thursday through Sunday.