Yet the way Tom Watson turned back the years at Turnberry, scene of the greatest of his five British Open triumphs, was the overwhelming story of a championship claimed by his compatriot Stewart Cink, aka the man who out-shot Bambi’s granddad.
The victor was all of four years old when Watson won his 1977 “duel in the sun” with Jack Nicklaus. Amazing when you think about it. As the actor Tony Curtis said when asked about the secret to his longevity: “… good timing”.
The runner-up’s remarkable performance raises some uncomfortable questions for those who contend with unshakable confidence that modern-day golf is the best there’s been by miles, that Tiger is the greatest of all time, even forsaking the fact he still lags not insignificantly behind Nicklaus’s majors tally .
That Watson, at close-on 60, could come within a few inches on the 18th green of winning the sport’s blue riband event (and ridiculing the bookies’ 1500-1 starting odds) while tournament favourite Woods was unable to make the cut, begs the question as to how good Tom and his contemporaries actually were in their ’70s-’80s heyday; an era with far inferior technology and routinely imperfect courses. Though Watson, who won eight majors in all, at least had his two original hips back then.
The man with the swing to complement those JFK looks smiled his way around the Ailsa links last weekend, maintaining his manners and humility right to the last, even as his famously-fluid striking deserted him due, most probably and understandably, to the onset of fatigue. However, even before the anti-climactic play-off most viewers had that ‘Cinking’ feeling as Tom literally came up short when he’d the chance to make all sorts of history.
Watson admitted that to squander that chance like he did, with a lousy putt (the bane of what should have been his peak years), “it tears your gut out.” But dignity became him as ever. You can imagine how the invariably moody Woods might have carried himself in similar circumstances. They don’t make them like they used to. Just look at the Sandy & Monty show.
As for Pádraig Harrington, whose defence of the Claret Jug he retained last year faltered tamely on ‘moving day’ (rapidly backwards in his case), the tinkering and insatiable introspection that’s tied his game in knots could become a career crisis if he’s not careful.
As someone with an almost equally-zealous eye for detail observed, the determinedly-pernickety Dubliner decided to deconstruct his swing in his playing prime, at a time when he’d just won three of golf’s biggest prizes (the USPGA being the third).
I’ve a theory which may be as wide of the mark as some of Pádraig’s approach play of late, but could it be that by going down the refine-to-infinity road, Harrington was subconsciously creating a protective shield against the pressures that automatically came with being a major favourite? Ironically the excuse that he’s working to strengthen his game is in danger of being seen as an indication of weakness.