Watson’s Open Cinks

One putt from eight feet was all that separated Tom Watson from a moment no one imagined possible until he was close enough to make it happen with one final stroke.

Stewart Cink kisses the Claret Jug after winning the British Open over the 59-year-old Tom Watson in a playoff at Turnberry

Stewart Cink kisses the Claret Jug after winning the British Open over the 59-year-old Tom Watson in a playoff at Turnberry

TURNBERRY, Scotland — One putt from eight feet was all that separated Tom Watson from a moment no one imagined possible until he was close enough to make it happen with one final stroke.

On the verge of becoming golf’s oldest major champion, Watson finally showed his 59-year-old nerves.

The par putt never had a chance. An hour later, neither did Watson.

“It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn’t it?” Watson said. “And it was almost. Almost. The dream almost came true.”

Turns out this British Open was too good to be true.

Stewart Cink, who made a 12-foot birdie on the final hole of regulation that only looked good enough for second place, overwhelmed a weary Watson in the four-hole playoff to win the British Open on Sunday.

Cink posed on the edge of a pot bunker with the claret jug. Watson walked into the press centre and quickly sized up the mood.

“This ain’t a funeral, you know,” he said.

Watson stood on the 18th tee one last time, trailing the playoff by four shots, 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.

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

Cink, who was never atop the leaderboard all week until Watson missed the winning putt, was flawless in the playoff. He opened with two pars, finished with two birdies and won by six, the largest margin in this format.

Cink and Watson finished at 2-under 278, the highest winning score in the four Opens held at Turnberry.

Gazing at the fabled trophy, he paid his due to the modern-day King of the Links.

“My hat’s off to him,” Cink said. “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 had to settle for his name engraved on golf’s oldest trophy. Yet even his first major title was bittersweet. It was hard to root against Watson, even for those trying to beat him.

“I have to be honest, playing against Tom in the playoff, it’s mixed feelings because I’ve watched him with such admiration all week,” Cink said. “And of course, it would come down to me against him in the playoff. And then the golf course is so hard that someone eventually is going to probably lose the tournament with mistakes.”

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 was thinking about hitting a 9-iron, then settled on an 8-iron. The ball soared right at the flag, then bounced hard and fast over the back of the green. His putt back up the slope ran eight feet past the hole.

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

The moment ended quickly. It was obvious immediately he didn’t hit it hard enough. Watson’s sagging shoulders confirmed it.

“I made a lousy putt,” said Watson, who closed with a 72. “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.

Jack Nicklaus, whom Watson beat at Turnberry in 1977 in that famous “Duel in the Sun,” shared Watson’s pain.

“I don’t think Tom was tired,” Nicklaus said. “But emotionally, he was spent. All his emotions were spent in those first 18 holes. When Stewart made birdie at 18, and then Tom made bogey, it just goes right through you.

“I feel terrible for him.”

Cink, born two years before Watson won his first claret jug at Carnoustie in 1975, moves to No. 9 in the world ranking.

“It’s been a surreal experience for me,” Cink said. “Not only playing one of my favourite 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.”

Some of these fans were at Turnberry in 1977 when Watson beat Nicklaus, 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.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

World Juniors’ referee Mike Langin makes a called during the Canada vs. Slovakia at the 2021 World Junior Championship at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Dec. 27, 2020. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)
Former Sylvan Lake man lives his dream at World Junior Championships

Mike Langin was one the 25 Canadian officials who worked during the tournament

Red Deer College expects to become polytechnic institution, not a university

Red Deer College does not expect to become a university after all.… Continue reading

Maskwacis RCMP are investigating an attempted murder and kidnapping. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Maskwacis RCMP are investigating an attempted murder and kidnapping. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Central Alberta man charged with attempted murder

Suspect caught after fleeing from RCMP

Skylar Roth-MacDonald will run from Calgary to Red Deer this weekend as part of Project 24, a virtual charity. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer native will run from Calgary to hometown this weekend

Skylar Roth-MacDonald gearing up to run across Canada this summer to raise mental health awareness

NDP Energy Critic Kathleen Ganley said Friday that the party plans to file a emergency motion for the UCP to release all documents pertaining to the Keystone XL Pipeline. (Screenshot courtesy of Red Deer Advocate)
NDP urges UCP to release all financial documents related to Keystone XL Pipeline

The Alberta NDP is lobbying the UCP to release documents surrounding the… Continue reading

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

There are two confirmed COVID-19 cases at Red Deer College. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Central Albertans were promised a university

Central Albertans were promised a university

Black Press File Photo
Maskwacis RCMP lay charges for attempted murder, kidnapping, and flight from police

Female victim remains in hospital in serious condition.

Canada’s 29th Governor General Julie Payette looks on alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Senate chamber during her installation ceremony, in Ottawa on Monday, October 2, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says viceregal vetting process needs improvement after Payette resigns

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his Liberal government will look… Continue reading

A digital Intensive care unit room at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital in Vaughan, Ont., on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are down slightly in Ontario and Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario and Quebec report decreasing numbers of people in hospital with COVID-19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urging people not to travel as Canada’s… Continue reading

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, October 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces plan for mass vaccination campaign starting in April

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s oldest residents will be able to pre-register for… Continue reading

Two families walk up to a COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Rapid COVID-19 tests important to reopening safely: business group

OTTAWA — A group of large businesses in Banff National Park is… Continue reading

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference, in Ottawa, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
New advocacy group launches pre-election ad campaign against O’Toole, Conservatives

OTTAWA — A new third-party advocacy group is launching an ad campaign… Continue reading

Jacqueline Donahue of Hazleton, right, buys la Mega Millions lottery ticket at the Anthracite Newsstand on Public Square, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Mark Moran/The Citizens’ Voice via AP)
Nearly $1B Mega Millions prize due to long odds, slow sales

Only the third time a lottery jackpot has grown so large

Most Read