Tom Watson was in the mood to talk about old times Monday when he addressed reporters covering this week’s British Open in Hoylake, England.
“If I’m getting too sugary,” he said, “stop me.”
Of course no one did as Watson recalled his favorite British Open memories.
Watson has played in the tournament every year but three since 1975, and he lifted the Claret Jug as champion five times (1975, ’77, ’80, ’82 and ’83). But as he prepares to play this year’s Open starting Thursday, Watson rates one of his wins above the others.
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It came at Turnberry in 1977, when Watson got into a battle with rival Jack Nicklaus that became known as the Duel in the Sun.
“It was the time in my career I was playing my best golf,” Watson said. “Breaking through is what I was doing. Earlier that year I won a couple of times, and then I won the Masters. Then I won the Western Open. I was really playing well. I was firing on all cylinders.”
Watson and Nicklaus matched each other the first three rounds, shooting 68, 70 and 65.
In the final round, Watson trailed early but pulled even by making a 60-foot putt from off the green at No. 15. He took the lead with a 2-putt birdie at No. 17.
Nicklaus put pressure on Watson on the final hole by making a 40-foot birdie putt, but Watson responded with a birdie of his own. That gave Watson a round of 65 and a 1-shot victory over Nicklaus for his second Open title.
“After Turnberry in ’77 I felt my career had finally reached a level where I could play with the big boys,” Watson said. “Beating Jack Nicklaus like that meant a lot to me.”
Watson said Nicklaus was also involved in the most emotional moment he has experienced in the British Open. It was at St. Andrews in 2005, when Nicklaus played the Open for the final time.
“I was paired with him that day, and it meant a lot to me,” Watson said. “He was the man I always wanted to beat. It was a special time, and I don’t mind admitting I was crying like baby all the way down the final hole. In fact, when we reached the green, he had to come up to me and say: ‘Stop crying, you’ve got a putt to hole to make the cut.’ ”
The putt dropped, but Watson finished 13 shots behind Tiger Woods.
Watson said his 68 in 30-mph winds during the first round in 1980 at Muirfield was his best round in the Open. And, not surprisingly, he rates his loss at age 59 to Stewart Cink in a playoff at Turnberry in 2009 as his biggest disappointment.
He also recalled that the best shot he ever hit at an Open came on his approach to the final hole during his victory at Royal Birkdale in 1983.
“First of all, it was a 2-iron. Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, a 2-iron takes some hitting, I can tell you,” Watson said.
“I had to wait a long time to hit that shot because the group in front were making a mess of the hole, but the moment I struck it I knew I had hit it dead flush. My caddie, Alfie Fyles, said ‘Stop hooking,’ but I said ‘Don’t worry’ because I knew the wind would bring it back.
“But of course we couldn’t see it finish. The Red Sea of people just converged right in front of us, so I never saw the ball come down. All I could do was listen to the crowd.
“Fortunately, it was only about 15 feet away.”
Watson 2-putted for par and a 1-shot win over Hale Irwin and Andy Bean.
Watson didn’t want to talk as much about what he expects to do this week.
“My game sometimes shows up,” he said. “But don’t ask me if it’s going to show up on Thursday or not. I don’t know. At 64 years old, it makes up it’s own mind. It really does.”
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