GOLF can be such a very cruel game.
For 59 year old Tom Watson the fairytale was just ten foot away.
Every club golfer has at some stage stood over a ten foot putt, and for whatever the context making it “important” for them at the time, felt just a touch of what Watson must have been feeling.
Just this putt to win the British Open, many have fantasised.
But for the veteran American it wouldn’t be just any British Open. It would be an historic record equalling sixth win by a man much older than any of the champions who had gone before him.
Just a couple of months shy of his 60th birthday, with an often mentioned hip replacement recently under his belt, the British commentators were beside themselves with the possibility, saying it would be the “greatest achievement in sport by anyone anywhere”.
That point could have been debated but oh what an achievement it would have been in any case.
Watson had seemed almost serene all week. He seemed to know something was coming together.
After finishing the first round at five under par he used the word “defenceless” to describe the course in still conditions.
Watson had seemed almost serene all week. He seemed to know something was coming together
And this was a course tough enough to cause world number one Tiger Woods to miss the cut for the first time in who knows how long. Probably since primary school.
Watson began the final day at three under alongside Australia’s Mat Goggin, who was a stroke further back.
Goggin would eventually falter and others, like England’s Lee Westwood and South Africa’s Retief Goosen, would have their chances and come and go.
In the end, Watson only needed to par the final hole to win.
He hit a fine drive and his iron approach was just as good but the ball trickled over the back of the green.
The lie in the second cut didn’t look too bad but Watson seemed to spend a long time bowed over studying it.
His wife, the crowd, commentators and no doubt countless television viewers were besides themselves, conscious they were about to witness history.
On the east coast of Australia it was past 4am, but we quickly fired up the laptop to record this great event.
We had the first paragraph, all about the fairytale coming true, mentally written and ready to go.
Watson was obviously torn between a chip and a putt. He decided on a putt and the real danger seemed to be not giving it enough oomph to get up the slope and onto the green. You wouldn’t want to tighten up and leave it short.
He gave the putt plenty, only just a touch more than perfect really, and the ball gathered a little pace as it sauntered past the hole.
Then there was just that ten foot left. For the Claret Jug, the historic sixth win, the whole fairytale.
Earlier, others had been thinking way too far ahead of themselves. If Watson won, they conjectured, the organisers would have had to change the rules to let him compete next year. Sixty year olds aren’t allowed to play. But this sixty year old would be the reigning champion with six wins under his belt.
But the sad fact is most fairytales have a Big Bad Wolf. You need the wolf to increase the dramatic tension. And sometimes, the wolf wins.
In this case the Big Bad Wolf title undeservedly went to Stewart Cink. Cink was the clubhouse leader on two under.
As we write this, we haven’t heard Watson’s post match comments.
Maybe he will admit that he tightened up, that the nerves got to him a little. When his putt came up short it certainly looked like they had.
As we said earlier, every golfer knows that feeling. Just relax, and for Christ’s sake don’t leave it short.
Everyone was a little deflated after that. Watson and Cink went into a four hole playoff but from the start Watson’s expression seemed to have changed slightly. More like resignation than serenity. The body language wasn’t good.
When Watson fluffed a great chance he was presented with on the first playoff hole things went downhill quickly.
Yes, he seemed to visibly age. Suddenly he was putting his tee shots into the rough and looking wistful and tired.
The last two playoff holes were painful. Everyone wanted it to end.
No doubt for Cink it was a triumph. He played the four holes beautifully.
He got to sink the putt that won him the British Open.
At the end when it was all over Watson seemed to check himself and reboot from what was obviously feelings of utter devastation and pain.
He walked over to Cink and offered what was clearly a heartfelt message of congratulations.
From a great distance, they looked to be words of wisdom and insight.
They looked to be the kind of words that Stewart Cink will remember for the rest of his days.