Watson Falters, Cink Rises in Playoff to Claim British Open


Jul 19, 2009

Watson Falters, Cink Rises in Playoff to Claim British Open TURNBERRY, Scotland — Tom Watson
stood over an 8-foot par putt Sunday evening on the final hole of a
mystical British Open, one stroke away from becoming the oldest major
champion in history. For the first time all week, he showed his
59-year-old nerves.

The putt never had a chance.

A little more than an hour later, neither did Watson.

Stewart Cink, who made a 12-foot
birdie on the final hole of regulation, took advantage of Watson's
missed opportunity and overwhelmed him in the four-hole playoff to win
by six shots.

Watson stood on the 18th tee one last
time, blinking away tears. He wasn't alone in his sadness. Thousands of
fans who filled the grandstands for the first time all week sat in
stunned silence.

Cink, who was never atop the
leaderboard all week until Watson missed the winning putt, was flawless
in the playoff and finished with two birdies. As he gazed at the fabled Claret Jug, he paid his due to Watson, the modern-day King of the

"I don't even know what to say," Cink
said. "My hat's off to him. He turned back the clock. Just did a great
job. I speak for all the rest of the people here, too."

Indeed, he did. The loudest cheer was for the player who won the silver medal.

Cink's birdie gave him 69, and at 2-under 278, it looked as though he would be the runner-up.

"It was almost," Watson said. "The dream almost came true."

Tied with three other players along
the back nine on a breezy afternoon, Watson two-putted for par on the
tough 16th hole, where his challengers all made bogey to fall back.
Then he made an easy birdie on the par-5 17th, giving him a one-shot
lead as this unforgettable British Open reached a crescendo.

From the middle of the 18th fairway,
Watson hit 8-iron and followed its flight, right at the flag. It
bounded through the green, and his putt back up the slope ran 8 feet
past the hole.

Watson steadied himself over the par putt, and thousands of fans braced themselves.

All week long, as Watson kept his
name atop the leaderboard, there was a feeling that he couldn't hold up
over four days and 72 holes. Now, he was 8 feet away from the

The drama ended as the ball wobbled off the blade, obvious that it wasn't struck hard enough. Watson's shoulders slumped.

"I made a lousy putt," he said. "Then in the playoff, it was bad shot after another."

For the first time all week, Watson
looked tired. His approach to the first playoff hole, No. 5, tumbled
into a pot bunker and led to bogey to fall one shot behind. After a
remarkable par save on the par-3 sixth, Watson came undone.

He hooked his tee shot on the 17th
into grass so deep it took him two hacks to get back to the fairway. He
three-putted for a double bogey, while Cink played safe and smart for a
two-putt birdie and a four-shot lead.

Cink, born two years before Watson
won his first Claret Jug at Carnoustie in 1973, captured his first
major and sixth career victory. He will move to No. 9 in the world.

"It's been a surreal experience for
me," Cink said. "Not only playing one of my favorite courses and a
wonderful tournament, but playing against Tom Watson. This stuff
doesn't happen. I grew up watching him on TV, hoping to follow in his
footsteps, not playing against him."

Rarely does a major championship end like this one — to polite applause from a gallery of long faces.

Some of these fans were at Turnberry
in 1977 when Watson beat Jack Nicklaus in the famous "Duel in the Sun,"
the signature victory among Watson's eight majors.

He just couldn't beat Father Time.

"It was fun to be in the mix again,
having kids who are my kids' age saying, 'What are you doing out here?'
It was nice showing them you can still play," Watson said. "I'm sure
I'll take some good things from it. But it's still a disappointment."

Watson wasn't alone in that
disappointment. Three other players had at least a share of the lead in
a final round where fortunes shifted with the sea breeze off the Firth
of Clyde.

Lee Westwood of England had a
one-shot lead with four holes to play until making back-to-back bogeys.
He battled to the end, however, and made a bold swing from a pot bunker
in the 18th fairway. The ball cleared the sodden wall by an inch and
somehow reached the front of the green. One shot behind, with Watson in
the fairway behind him, he felt his only hope was to make the 70-foot

He ran it about 8 feet by the hole,
then missed the next one and took bogey. Westwood was saddened to see
Watson miss the putt for other reasons — he shot 71 and finished one
shot out of the playoff.

"Gone from frustration to sickness now," he said.

Chris Wood, missing only an "s" in
his name to give the weekend some normalcy after Tiger Woods missed the
cut, shot 67 despite a bogey on the last hole. He tied for third with
Westwood, finishing nearly two hours before Watson missed the decisive

Mathew Goggin, who played in the
final pairing with Watson, also was tied for the lead and had a chance
to seize control until badly missing an 8-foot birdie putt on the 13th.
He followed with three straight bogeys and shot 73, two shots behind.

Then there was Ross Fisher, not even
sure he would play Sunday if his wife had gone into labor. He birdied
the first two holes and was two shots ahead until he chopped away in
high grass on both sides of the fifth fairway and took a
quadruple-bogey 8. Fisher didn't make another birdie the rest of the
day and shot 75.

It was the highest winning score in the four Opens held at Turnberry.

The closest Cink had ever come to
winning a major was the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, when he
missed an 18-inch bogey putt on the last hole while trying to clear the
stage for Retief Goosen, never suspecting Goosen would three-putt from
12 feet. Cink wound up missing the playoff by one shot.

Now, his name is on the oldest trophy in golf, joining the likes of Woods, Nicklaus and Watson, the man he beat.

"The same Tom Watson that won this
tournament in '77, the same guy showed up here this week," Cink said.
"And he just about did it. He beat everybody but one guy. And it was
really special."

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