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.
The loudest cheer was for the player who won the silver medal.
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 Links.
“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.”
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.”
History faltered at Turnberry today when Tom Watson, bidding to become oldest man (and the first with a hip replacement) to win one of golf’s major championships, was finally vanquished by his countryman Stewart Cink at the 2009 Open Championship.
The 59-year-old American, whose last major championship victory came 26 years ago, had an eight-foot putt on the final hole to secure one of the greatest upset victories in the history of sport, let alone golf.
Alas for him, alas for sporting romantics around the world, his ball came up short, sending the two compatriots into a four-hole play-off.
Cink, younger by 23 years, won that easily — by six shots, to be precise – as Watson’s efforts over the previous 72 holes took their predictable toll.
To the winner went the famous claret jug and a cheque of £750,000. To the runner-up went £450,000 and the comfort of knowing that he had given inspiration to millions – as well as palpitations to those who had backed him at 1,500-1 before a ball was struck.
“The old fogey almost did it,” Watson said afterwards when asked to provide a headline for publications around the world which had catalogued his amazing efforts through the four days of the championship. “It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn’t it. It wasn’t to be and yes it was a great disappointment. It tears your gut, as it always has torn at my gut. It’s not easy to take.”
Tied for second place after Thursday’s first round, Watson lead the tournament for most of the next three days. He saw off Tiger Woods, who missed the halfway cut, and the vast majority of the other young tyros who dominate the modern game.
In the end, only Cink, the eventual winner, and England’s Lee Westwood, stood between him and a famous victory.
Westwood, who stood to make a £2m bonus from a sponsor had he won, needed to birdie the last. Instead, he could only bogey the hole and fell back into a tie for third alongside Englishman Chris Wood, 21. Disappointingly for Watson, Cink was not so accommodating, rolling in a 12-foot putt on the 18th hole of regulation play for birdie. He followed that with a series of wonderful shots in the play-off to take the prize.