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The Old Man almost wins The Open
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Forsyth County News
You can go back again.

Even when you’re 59.

That’s what Tom Watson taught us over the weekend.

For four days, we watched in disbelief as Old Tom stayed in contention for the British Open golf championship.

For four days we kept waiting for the Old Man to start acting his age.

For four days, we let Old Watson keep reminding us of Young Watson. That rhythm. That balance. Those drives that kept finding the fairway. Those long putts that kept dropping.

At some point along the way — Saturday afternoon? Sunday morning? — we actually began to believe that it could happen. Tom Watson can win The Open. This is incredible!

We’d seen a few wobbles, sure. After the sparkling opening round 65 on Thursday, he ran into a slew of bogeys on Friday, four in the first seven holes.

At that point, Watson received words of encouragement from his playing partner, Sergio Garcia: “Come on, old man!”

“That was nice of Sergio to give me a little pep talk there,” Watson admitted in his post-round press conference. “He was making a joke of it, but I said, ‘Well, I feel like an old man!’”

He sure didn’t play like one, though. He played Friday’s final 11 holes in four under par, gaining back every stroke he had lost. He finished the day tied for the lead.

Saturday, he kept plugging along, surrendering a stroke to par, but clinging to the lead.

Suddenly, Tom Watson was on the verge of the greatest story in sports history.

Hyperbole? I don’t think so. The guy is 59, beating people half his age. He’s a full decade older that anyone who ever won a major tournament.

He’s even 13 years older than Jack Nicklaus was during his amazing Masters win in ‘86.

The U.S. hockey team only had to beat the Russians once. Ali was simply smarter than Foreman. The ‘69 Mets had 25 guys picking each other up every day.

But this was one man, against all odds, for four days in a row, creating a miracle shot after shot.

Until, finally, he stood in the middle of the fairway on the final hole, needing only a par to finish the dream.

“I hit the shot I meant to,” Watson explained at the post-Open press conference. “When it was in the air, I said, ‘I like it!’ And then, all of a sudden, it goes over the green.

“In retrospect, I probably would have hit a 9-iron instead of an 8-iron. I hit the 8-iron the way I meant to. I was thinking 9, but I said, you know, I’ll hit an 8. Sure enough, it went too far.”

From behind the green, Watson chose to putt. “I felt like I had a better chance to get it close. I looked at the upslope, and it looked like there was some grain in there, so I decided I wasn’t going to leave it short. And I gunned it on by. And I made a lousy putt.

“The playoff was just one bad shot after another. And Stewart did what he had to do to win.”

Oh, yes, Stewart Cink actually won the tournament, making a nice putt on the final hole for one of only six birdies on the 18th hole all day.

But even the glow of Cink’s first major championship couldn’t dim his feelings for what Watson had done.

“I don’t feel ashamed. I don’t feel disappointed,” Cink announced at his post-Open press conference. “I’m pleased as punch that I won this tournament.

“And, also, proud of the way Tom Watson played. Not only did he show how great a golfer he is, but he showed what a great game we all play, the longevity that can exist for a guy to come out and compete.

“When the outcome wasn’t really in question anymore, then I was able to sit back and not only enjoy myself walking up to the [18th] green, but also reflect a little bit about what Tom Watson just did in front of all of us.

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

Special indeed. How often does watching a sporting event leave you with goose bumps? How often do you find yourself holding your breath before every shot, pitch, or play? How often do you root so hard that your stomach ties itself up in knots?

About as often as you watch the greatest sports story ever told unfold. And Tom Watson agreed.

“It would’ve made a helluva story, wouldn’t it? It wasn’t to be. Yes, it’s a great disappointment. It tears at your gut as it always has torn at my gut. It’s not easy to take. I put myself in position to win. I didn’t do it on the last hole.”

Finally, Watson left us with a bit of reflection. “When all is said and done, one of the things that I hope will come out of my life is that my peers will say, ‘That Watson, he was a helluva golfer.’”

No doubt about it.

When not practicing his avocation, Denton Ashway practices his vocation with the law firm of Ashway and Haldi in Cumming.