Tom Watson at 70: The 2009 Open, Turnberry and the greatest fairy tale never told

By Sports Desk September 04, 2019

Tom Watson celebrates his 70th birthday on Wednesday, a notable number for a golfer who appeared to defy time a decade ago at Turnberry.

The American won eight majors in a hugely successful career, but perhaps it is the one that got away that remains so fresh in many memories.

At The Open in 2009, Watson rolled back the years to produce a performance that delighted those watching on, both those lucky to be there at the course but also around the world on television.

To mark his notable milestone, we look back at a tournament that will never be forgotten...

Fairy tales have enthralled, entertained and educated us for centuries.

Whether it be a lesson in morality, a magical escape or a triumph for good over evil, fairy tales have the exceptional ability to let us escape from reality.

It is a formula that succeeds time and time again. The problem is when it comes to sport, however, the lines become blurred and there is no one formula to follow.

Sport has no room for sentimentality, no time for history, no interest in assuaging our desires for the feel-good narrative. There is not always a lesson to be taught, nor always a battle between good and bad.

Just ask Tom Watson and Stewart Cink, who were part of a real-life fable that will live forever in golfing folklore.

Once upon a time, Watson was considered among the best players on the planet. At the peak of his powers in the 1970s and early 80s there was a magic and aura about the American great that resulted in eight major championships.

But, as with any great sports star, time eventually caught up with the great champion, which is what made the story of the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry so special.

By this point of his career, Watson was 59. His last major success was back in 1983, when he clinched a fifth Open at Royal Birkdale.

And yet, despite pre-tournament odds of 1500-1 and hip replacement surgery just nine months prior, Watson was on the brink of the most remarkable of victories, one that would have made him the oldest major winner of all time.

Even when Watson rolled back the years with an opening-round 65 that left him one off the lead, it was hard to imagine what we were witnessing was anything other than a nostalgic throwback to a bygone era.

Through 36 holes, though, there was an ever-increasing feeling of 'what if?' A gritty level-par round in tricky Ayrshire conditions left Watson tied for the lead. He couldn't... could he?

By the end of Saturday - which yielded a one-over 71, enough to take the outright lead - the most far-fetched dream was becoming a scarcely believable reality.

A couple of bogeys early on the Sunday hinted that the rigours of major golf on a 59-year-old's body had finally caught up. But even as Ross Fisher and then Mathew Goggin moved ahead, Watson refused to slip quietly into the background.

As the day progressed, there was drama that even Martin Scorsese in his full, creative flow could not have scripted.

While Lee Westwood played himself in and out of contention, Cink climbed the leaderboard and rolled in a 15-footer at the last to join Watson on two under and crank up the pressure. However, Watson replied to the situation with a gain of his own at 17, meaning he was just four strokes away from creating history.

Yet the fairy-tale nature of the weekend was replaced by the cruel reality of professional sport. A crisp eight iron sailed over the green, while his third back onto the putting surface left a tricky 10-footer for victory. The putt, as would be the case for Watson's efforts over the weekend, came up just short.

There was still the lottery of a play-off, yet the grind of the previous four days finally took their toll as Cink made a major breakthrough in a one-sided extra four holes.

So near, yet so far. For Watson, there was little solace to take from a herculean effort that had warmed the hearts of those watching, both at the venue and on television.

"It's a great disappointment. It [losing] tears at your gut, as it always has torn at my gut. It's not easy to take," he reflected after the final round.

For Cink, too, the gravitas of what had transpired on that fateful final day was tough to comprehend.

"I'm a little intimidated by this piece of hardware here," Cink admitted following his win. "There are a lot of emotions running through my mind and heart and I'm as proud as I can be to be here with this.

"It was fun watching Tom all week and I'm sure I speak for all the rest of the people too."

It's easy to feel for Cink. The 2009 Open was the crowning glory of his career but he is somewhat the forgotten champion, such was the narrative that played out around him.

Since lifting the Claret Jug, Cink has failed to win another trophy on the PGA or European Tour.

But this is where those blurred fairy-tale lines come into play. This was never a story of good versus evil, never a tale of morality.

More just an epic event encapsulating sporting theatre, with a dream ending never getting to see the light of day. Certainly from Watson's point of view, it was the greatest fairy tale never told.

"It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn't it?" Watson said.

It sure would have been, Tom, it sure would have been.

Related items

  • Tiger Woods to pen first memoir, book will be titled 'Back' Tiger Woods to pen first memoir, book will be titled 'Back'

    Fifteen-time major winner Tiger Woods is writing his first memoir, which will be titled 'Back'.

    His publisher, announcing the book on Tuesday, describes it as "the first and only account directly from Woods, with the full co-operation of his friends, family and inner circle".

    Woods said in a statement from HarperCollins Publishers: "I've been in the spotlight for a long time, and because of that, there have been books and articles and TV shows about me, most filled with errors, speculative and wrong.

    "This book is my definitive story. It's in my words and expresses my thoughts. It describes how I feel and what's happened in my life. I've been working at it steadily, and I'm looking forward to continuing the process and creating a book that people will want to read."

    Woods, 43, won this year's Masters and the memoir will cover his life from his start in the game through to his victory in April at Augusta National, according to HarperCollins. No release date was announced.

    There have been multiple books written about Woods, most notably 2018's 'Tiger Woods' by authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian that spent time on the New York Times Bestseller List and was described as a "deeper look at the personal and professional triumphs and disasters of the champion golfer".

    It was a critically acclaimed warts-and-all account of Woods' life that has included his triumphs on the course as he rose to number one in the world as one of golf's most dominating figures, but also a much-publicised break-up from his wife after his infidelities, among other off-the-course tribulations.

    It is unclear how deeply Woods will delve into his missteps in 'Back', based on Tuesday's announcement, although the book's editor hinted that he might open up as never before.

    "Meeting with Tiger, speaking with him at length about the process of writing a memoir, I was delighted to discover how much he has to say, and how ready, how eager, he is to say it," said Shannon Welch, who will edit the book. "He's at a place in his career and his life where he's thinking deeply about his story, the highs and the lows, and how it all relates and connects. I think the result will be extraordinary."

    Woods, whose season was a disappointment after the major victory in the spring, is set to return to competitive golf next week in Japan. He is scheduled to play next Monday in The Challenge: Japan Skins with Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama and then will compete from October 24-27 in the Zozo Championship in Chiba, the first PGA Tour event contested in Japan.

    He has played competitively only six times since the Masters, missing two cuts and withdrawing from another event with an injury. He has since had an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee and has not played since the BMW Championship in August.

    Woods has 81 PGA Tour wins, the second-highest total of any player, behind only Sam Snead's 82. Woods' 15 major victories put him three shy of Jack Nicklaus' career record and include five victories at the Masters, four in US PGA Championships, three in U.S. Opens and three Open Championships.

  • Jamaica rally to get maiden win at CGA four-ball championships Jamaica rally to get maiden win at CGA four-ball championships

    Jamaica rallied from a three-point deficit on Friday to a convincing win at the Caribbean Golf Association Four-Ball Championships that concluded at the PGA National Resort & Spa at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida on Saturday.

  • Ronaldo 700: Overheads, free-kicks and backheels - 10 of Cristiano's best goals Ronaldo 700: Overheads, free-kicks and backheels - 10 of Cristiano's best goals

    If Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov needs any consolation, it had happened 699 times before.

    Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 700th goal of a phenomenal career as Portugal suffered a setback in Euro 2020 qualifying on Tuesday.

    Ronaldo reached his latest milestone when he converted a second-half penalty in Kiev, awarded after Taras Stepanenko handled the ball inside the box.

    A hero at Manchester United, Real Madrid and now Juventus, a fair few of Ronaldo's incredible haul have been stone-cold classics. Here, we look back at 10 of his best goals.

     

    Manchester United v Portsmouth: January 30, 2008

    Perhaps the finest free-kick Ronaldo struck in his career.

    The Portuguese developed his reputation as a set-piece master at United and he lashed a phenomenal 25-yard effort past David James as part of a double to send Alex Ferguson's side to the top of the Premier League.

    His knuckleball technique sent the ball swirling into the top-right corner for one of his defining Old Trafford moments.

     

    Porto v Manchester United: April 15, 2009

    He had absolutely no right to score this one.

    Back in his homeland for a Champions League quarter-final against Porto, Ronaldo picked up the ball in the middle of the opposition half, got it out of his feet and sent a searing strike flying past Helton to seal a 1-0 win at the Estadio do Dragao and a 3-2 aggregate triumph.

     

    Almeria v Real Madrid: April 15, 2010

    Ronaldo has developed into more of a penalty-box poacher in recent seasons, but this effort against Almeria was a reminder of how devastating he could be when starting with the ball outside the area.

    Rafael van der Vaart won back possession in the Almeria half and the ball was worked to Ronaldo, who accelerated past two challenges, left a third defender for dead with a stepover, and drilled home with his left foot. The visitors would go on to win 2-1.

     

    Sevilla v Real Madrid: December 17, 2011

    Sevilla have grown sick of the sight of Ronaldo – he has scored 25 times against them, after all – but this strike in a 6-2 thrashing is perhaps the best of them all.

    Collecting Karim Benzema's pass 30 yards out, Ronaldo took advantage of the time and space given to him by the defence to blast a shot into the top-right corner, the swerve on the ball making it totally unstoppable. It was one of three he scored that day at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

     

    Real Madrid v Valencia: May 4, 2014

    It was not enough to keep Madrid's title chase alive but this was another goal that showcased Ronaldo's killer instinct and dexterity.

    In second-half injury time, with Valencia 2-1 ahead, Angel Di Maria volleyed over a cross from the left and Ronaldo swivelled to score a backheel volley and snatch a point.

     

    Real Madrid v Espanyol: January 31, 2016

    Although his game had become more refined from those buccaneering early days, Ronaldo showed here he was not quite done when it came to solo runs and spectacular finishes.

    With Madrid already 3-0 up in what would prove to be a 6-0 thrashing, James Rodriguez's pass was deflected into Ronaldo's path and he did the rest, showing brilliant footwork to skip beyond three challenges before rifling home from the edge of the area with his left foot.

     

    Hungary v Portugal: June 22, 2016

    Portugal thrice fell behind to Hungary in Lyon during Euro 2016, and Ronaldo brought them level on the second occasion with a display of fine skill.

    The captain added a deft flick with his trailing leg to Joao Mario's right-wing cross to make it 2-2, and he cancelled out Balazs Dzsudzsak's second with a double of his own. It was enough to send Portugal into the knockout stages and from there they claimed a maiden international title.

     

    Juventus v Real Madrid: April 3, 2018

    Arguably the finest goal Ronaldo has produced.

    Moving away from goal as Dani Carvajal dug a cross towards the penalty spot from the right, the Portuguese lept into the air and connected with a marvellous overhead kick. His leg was at a right angle to his body as he struck with the sweetest of volleys that flew past an idle Gianluigi Buffon.

     

    Portugal v Spain: June 15, 2018

    Having twice given his side the lead, Ronaldo found Portugal 3-2 down to their Iberian neighbours in their thrilling opener at the 2018 World Cup.

    The was a sense of inevitability when he stood over an 88th minute free-kick, but the execution was sheer perfection – power and dip combined to leave David de Gea with no chance.

     

    Juventus v Manchester United: November 8, 2018

    Another decorated Portuguese was celebrating at full-time when Jose Mourinho watched his Manchester United team complete a 2-1 comeback win.

    But Ronaldo struck first with a sumptuous and technically brilliant strike, watching Leonardo Bonucci's raking ball over his shoulder to volley home.  

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.