There was a chance, as Tom Watson battled the late afternoon winds that gusted close to 40 mph on the back nine at St. Andrews, that he was going to grind his way inside the cutline, like he did at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open.
The 60-year-old Watson had just birdied the ninth hole to get to 3-over, two strokes outside the cut in possibly his final British Open at the Old Course. (He won’t be exempt in 2015.) But after turning in six straight pars, his chances faded like the dimming light with back-to-back bogeys.
Standing on the 18th hole at 4-over for the championship, we all knew he would be making that pose on the Swilcan Bridge. Watson stooped over and kissed it, and then soaked in 35 years of thank yous as the crowd cheered and photographers clicked away, while he waved with both arms raised over his head. It was the perfect way to end Friday’s ESPN telecast.
Watson’s group was the last to finish on Friday, just before 10 p.m. local time. Watson saved one last magical shot for the fans waiting for him around the 18th green, as his pitch shot over the Valley of Sin tracked straight for the hole before hanging on the lip, nearly going in for an eagle.
Watson finished with a birdie, just like Jack Nicklaus did during his final British Open at St. Andrews in 2000. Arnold Palmer also said goodbye to the British Open at St. Andrews in 1995.
Watson still has four more years left on his British Open exemption, thanks to the five-time champion’s second-place finish last year at Turnberry.
“I thought of Arnold (Palmer) on the bridge, I thought of Jack (Nicklaus) on the bridge, and their last Opens were both right here at St. Andrews,” Watson told reporters after carding a 75 for 148, 4 over par.”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.”
But the home of golf won’t have another great like Watson to salute on the Swilcan Bridge for quite some time.
[AP Photo/Alastair Grant]