ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — Tom Watson closed out his British Open career with his worst score ever at St. Andrews.
Not that it mattered.
In the dwindling Scottish light, Watson shot an 8-over 80 and finished with five straight bogeys Friday, his farewell put off until nearly 10 p.m. after a morning rain delay. Several thousand people hung around for the end, serenading the five-time Open champion with raucous cheers and a chant of “hip, hip, hooray!”
The 65-year-old Kansas City, Mo. native moaned about his performance, calling himself “a hack.”
“Boy, was that ugly!” he said.
No one cared about his score, however.
This was a chance to salute Watson and watch him make one last crossing of the Swilcan Bridge, the famous stone arch over the burn on the 18th fairway. He waved his cap to the crowd, took a bow, then clapped his hands and looked skyward.
While the stands were largely empty given the late hour, fans poured out of the restaurants and pubs lining the 18th hole. Marshals gave up any hope of enforcing their rules against taking photographs during a round, and dozens of flashes went off as Watson tapped in his final putt.
“There should be no tears,” Watson said. “I have some wonderful memories.”
He wasn’t a fan of links golf early in his career but won the British Open on his very first try in 1975. Watson would win it four more times over the next eight years, as golf’s oldest championship came to define his career.
There were plenty of triumphs, most notably his famous “Duel in the Sun” with Jack Nicklaus in 1977, and a heartbreaking near-miss at age 59, when he was poised to become the sport’s oldest major champion before a bogey at the 72nd hole and a playoff loss to Stewart Cink.
“If I entertained the fans with some great golf shots, that’s all I wanted to do,” he said. “I think I hit a few of them.”
There weren’t many great shots in Watson’s final British Open. He conceded beforehand that he could no longer compete with players young enough to be his grandchildren, and he will likely finish last in the 156-player field when the second round is completed Saturday morning.
Watson finished with a 12-over 156 total.
As the clouds thickened and the skies darkened, it looked as though he would have to return for one more day to finish his round. He asked his playing partners, Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker, what they wanted to do, knowing they were both fighting to make the cut.
Both said they wanted to keep going.
At the 17th hole, an R&A official informed Els that play would have to be suspended.
The Big Easy urged the official to let Watson’s group complete the round.
“They were getting ready to blow the horn,” Els said. “I told them, ‘You need to speak to someone about that.’ I was like, ‘C’mon, man, you’ve got a legend here. There’s nobody going to pitch up at 6:30 in the morning to say goodbye.”
So play carried on. The entire group, with their caddies, posed for a group picture on the Swilcan Bridge after hitting their tee shots. Then, Watson and his caddying son, Michael, got a shot together. Then it was Watson, all alone atop the arch, with the orange glow of a nearby electronic scoreboard casting an eerie light across the darkened fairway.
After getting to his ball, Watson tried a delicate pitch across the “Valley of Sin,” the dip in front of the 18th green. The ball plopped onto the green but wouldn’t stay, rolling off the front as the crowd groaned. Els and Snedeker both finished up, leaving the stage to Watson.
He asked Michael to stick the flag back in the hole so he could line up his putt from off the green.
“You’ve got too hold it for me, son,” Watson quipped. “I can’t even see it.”
He missed that putt, then another. Finally, Watson tapped in for another bogey — his sixth in the last seven holes — and turned to bow to the crowd. He was met in front of the clubhouse by several players, including Graeme McDowell, Matt Kuchar and Tom Lehman.
“That was the right sending-off,” Els said.
Watson appreciated those who hung around for his farewell.
“There was just so much joy walking up that hole,” he said. “There’s no reason to be sad. I played the game for a long time.”
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