From his 1977 Duel in the Sun to his 2009 near-triumph, Tom Watson is an indisputable British Open legend. He won five Claret Jugs and was within inches of a sixth last year. And while his British Open days aren't done, this is almost certainly his last round at St. Andrews, as the tournament isn't scheduled to return to the Old Course until 2015.
One year after his miraculous run at Turnberry, Watson couldn't summon up the magic once again. With the cut line hovering between 1-over and 2-over, Watson posted a 75 on Friday to fall to 4-over and out of cut contention. He knew it, the crowd knew it, and so Watson's final holes became a farewell celebration.
[Photos: See the touching farewell]
With darkness rapidly approaching, Watson stepped to the 18th tee. As you can see by the photo above, the light was quickly fading. It looked as if Watson would have to play his 18th on Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. local time, an awkward, anticlimactic ending not befitting a player of his stature.
And then: respect from an unexpected quarter. Tiger Woods, playing in the group ahead, motioned for Watson's group to swing away so that Watson could finish on Friday evening, basking in the cheers of the adoring Scotland crowd. Watson and Woods have had their differences of late, with Watson critiquing Woods' behavior both on and off the course, but on this afternoon, Woods put aside personal differences and let Watson enjoy one last triumphant walk up 18.
As Watson approached the famed Swilcan Bridge, the iconic centerpiece of the Old Course, he stopped to kiss the centuries-old stones. It was a perfect moment, a classic instant that will be replayed every time the Open Championship returns to St. Andrews. He joins Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, to name two recent legends, in taking a touching moment to enjoy one last view from the bridge.
And it nearly got even better. On his second shot, a chip up to the 18th green, Watson nearly holed out for eagle, leaving the ball resting on the edge of the cup. Can we get sentimental for a second and say that even the ball didn't want Watson to finish his round? Sure, why not? One tap-in birdie later and Watson was done, his St. Andrews career already part of legend. He never won at the Old Course, coming closest in 1984 when he fell to Seve Ballesteros at the last moment, but Friday night certainly felt like a victory celebration.
Of course, there are still two more days to be played in this year's Open. Woods, for his part, nearly aced the 18th but missed the ensuing eagle putt. He sits at 4-under, eight shots behind leader Louis Oosthuizen. But the way the weather is swirling, nobody who made the cut is out of the hunt for the 2010 Open Championship.
Shame that Tom Watson couldn't be among them. But he got the perfect sendoff.
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