Tom Watson Only Had 71 Holes In His Tank, It Appears

There is what Tom Watson is: 59 years old, the owner of eight major victories (the sixth most ever), and three decades removed from greatness. ↵

↵And then there's what Tom Watson represented for golf fans everywhere. Here, the specifics fall away and he's not just more than a man, he's more of a story. He's hope personified, the face of man defeating time, just this once. ↵

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↵But the universe, unfair as it may seem, just doesn't work that way. And so though Watson led after 54 holes, 69 holes, 70 holes, and 71 holes, this was a 72-, then a 76-hole tournament. And though we mustered every ounce of our denial, when Watson biffed that 8-footer to win on the 18th, deep down, we knew his needle was on E. At that point, the loss was only a matter of  time. The man and the story we wanted were not to be the same. ↵

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↵It's a shame that Stewart Cink had to play the part of bad guy, but who can fault the man for his performance? It's not as if he didn't earn it: two under par on the four-hole playoff while Watson did little but spray aimless hooks at the crowd like his name was Ron Artest. ↵

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↵And so the wildly improbable possibility ended up the way most wildly improbable things do: not happening. It's a damned shame that it all had to play out in such a gruesome, public fashion--would anyone have really minded if Watson had pulled a Roberto Duran and called "No Mas" after chunking that second shot on 17?--but hey, nobody minded the microscope when Watson was leading. ↵

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↵That's the especially cruel aspect of golf: there's nowhere for the emotions to go. You can't put "something extra" on your tee shot--no, strike that; you certainly can do exactly that, but only if you feel like making matters worse and spraying your drive into the deep rough. And so even as Watson melted down and his driver betrayed him, the admiration from fans only grew; who hasn't had a great day fall apart with one putt and found himself weed-whacking for the next half hour because of it? Who hasn't been crushed with disappointment, either on the links or off? Who hasn't had their Watson moment somewhere, sometime? ↵

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↵As for the fateful putt on 18 that forced the playoff, the temptation (especially for the pundits) is to disassociate from the emotion and callously call it a "choke." Not to name names, but there are a few master debaters on the WWL who'll have fun probing that line thought. That's not fair. For one, objective analysis kind of takes a backseat when the athlete's a couple months away from joining AARP, plus there's the fact that 8-foot putts aren't exactly gimmes for golfers of any age to begin with. He didn't choke. He ran out of gas. And that, disappointing as it may be, is okay. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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