TURNBERRY, Scotland – One by one, the dreams of Turnberry withered and died, ensnared in the trapdoors of heartache secreted amid the reeds and gorse bushes and cruel undulations of this Scottish links course.
It was a British Open packed with drama and storylines that defied reason and belief in equal measure, but one which largely will be looked back on through moistened eyes.
Stewart Cink's victory was as deserved as it was impressive, yet a pervading sense of sadness and gloom hung over the windswept coastline long after the patrons had departed.
For so long it seemed a fairy-tale ending was inevitable. Wherever you looked around this proud old beacon of history, with its clutching rough and vertical bunkers, there were tales of intrigue.
All would perish, extinguished amid the confluence of circumstance that gave the ice-cool Cink his finest hour.
The last one to go was the most painful to watch, as Tom Watson's extraordinary attempt at age-reversal fell apart at the final hurdle. It was heart-wrenching to see Watson by the end, looking finally like a tired 59-year-old instead of the vibrant figure that was the figurehead of the tournament for all but its final hour.
Watson is a grand champion and deserves the brutal reckoning that goes with that status. The pedantic excuses of television commentators who blamed his inability to lift the claret jug on his aging and wilting legs are an insult to the man and his legend.
Watson had the tournament at his mercy, blew it and knows he will have to face its taunting memory deep into his latter years.
"It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn't it," he said. "It tears at your gut as it always has. It is not easy to take, I put myself in position to win and didn't do it at the last hole."
It was all set up for Watson to pull off the impossible. A 59-year-old winning a major? Are you kidding?
By the time he smacked a tee shot straight down the middle on 18, needing only a par to win, the skeptics had leaped into the Firth of Clyde and were deserting Turnberry at speed. Suddenly, this wasn't just a nice little tale anymore, Tom Watson was going to win the British Open again.
Up in the Turnberry Hotel, the management was scratching their heads. With three suites all named after the Open champions who have triumphed at Turnberry (Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Price), what were they going to call the fourth? Watson 2?
But then it went awry, and it wasn't pretty. First, Watson over-hit his approach to the green, then putted 10 feet past from the fringe, before seeing his blow for the trophy slip way to the right. A playoff with Cink ensued, but from that moment you could sense the day was done.
"It ain't a funeral," said Watson, as he entered his media conference – but it sure felt like one.
Because this was a day in which it seemed so many other dreams had died so that Watson's could live on.
First, it was Ross Fisher, whose impending fatherhood and admission that he would leave the tournament at any stage to be at the bedside of his wife, Jo, if she went into labor endeared him to the crowd.
Fisher junior was in no hurry, already three days overdue, but the expectant father was, storming into the lead Sunday with two straight birdies. For him, however, it all ended unceremoniously on the 5th, with a quadruple bogey, four dropped shots that would be the eventual margin between himself and the playoff combatants. Ouch.
Next to flirt with glory was Chris Wood, in just his second major after finishing joint fifth as an amateur in 2008. His 67 under pressure was perhaps the round of the day, striding up the leaderboard to tug at the tails of the favorites above him.
After posting a total of 1 under it looked as if the field could all come back to Wood, and the tousle-haired 21-year-old Englishman was even on his way to the range to prepare for a playoff when Cink broke his heart with the birdie on 18 that knocked him out of contention.
For Wood, there will surely be another day, but the British have had to utter those words all too often in this tournament's history.
Perhaps the decade-long wait for a home champion would finally end with Lee Westwood, a victory for whom would have been a common-sense outcome in this most contrary of tournaments.
Westwood should have been in a playoff at least but got overaggressive with his birdie putt on 18, believing that Watson would par the last, meaning he needed a birdie.
"It has gone from frustration to sickness now," said Westwood, as reality sunk in. "I didn't see Tom bogeying the last as he is such an experienced player. It was sickening to miss out at the U.S Open last year but this is the Open and it is the one that means most to me. It is the one you dream of as a kid."
The wishful thinking continued all day Sunday, for Watson and Westwood and the others, for the crowd and a hopeful home nation. They dared to dream, scattering fairy tales around Turnberry, before all faded to nothing on the day the dreams died.