The Story of The 104th Open at Carnoustie
In the fourth instalment of our historical features on The Open at Carnoustie, we focus on Tom Watson’s first major success of his long illustrious career.
At 25-years-old, Watson had already contended a major on American soil a year before The 104th Open, having led in the final round of the 1974 U.S Open but shooting 79 to finish tied fifth. However, like his fellow countrymen Ben Hogan and Tony Lima, Watson was to be successful in his first attempt at The Open, which began his journey to seven more majors, 39 PGA victories and 14 Champions Tour wins.
A gentleman of the game, the Kansas man went down in history with this iconic victory and his name has become synonymous with everything golf stands for.
A slow start
It was the fifth time The Open had been hosted on the Angus links but Watson was yet to experience a British course and struggled to get to grips with Carnoustie. He shot a commendable 71 in his first competitive round at The Open.
Three shots off the lead, Watson carded an impressive 67 in round two which moved him into tied second place alongside the legendary Jack Nicklaus, with whom he would have one of the most historic and memorable Opens just two years later. David Huish, the club professional from North Berwick, held the halfway lead with rounds of 69 and 67, but a 76 put him out of contention after the third round.
South Africa’s Bobby Cole shot a course record 66 on both the second and third days only for Jack Newton to break it immediately with a 65 in the third round to lie one behind Cole, with Watson two shots further back.
After three days of calm and sunshine at Carnoustie, the fierce Scottish wind swept across the course in the final round creating very different conditions and dramatically affecting the leaderboard. In one of the tightest finishes in Open history, five players were in contention on the final day.
Nicklaus set the target with a last round of 72, before Newton and Cole both missed putts on the 17th to save par and keep their lead going down the last. On the 18th green ahead, Watson managed an even-par 72 with a 20-foot birdie putt, meaning Newton had to birdie the last to win and Cole had to birdie to stay in contention of a playoff.
Newton couldn’t hole his long effort and tapped in his par putt to set up a playoff, whilst Cole also left his birdie putt short to miss out on a three-way playoff for the Claret Jug.
The last 18-hole playoff in Open history
This was the final time an Open playoff would be fought in an 18-hole format and both players went toe-to-toe throughout the next day in testing conditions as the rain came hammering down.
Newton looked to have taken the lead with an excellent chip at the 14th, stopping it inches short and tapping in for birdie, but Watson responded with an incredible chip-in eagle to take the lead. The two challengers were level at the 18th and Watson made the green in two, whereas Newton hit the front of the bunker with his approach, proving costly.
Watson holed out with a par, leaving Newton a long putt to tie once more after successfully escaping the sand. Yet it wasn’t to be as the ball rolled agonisingly past the left lip, giving Watson his first ever major victory and a historic Open win. Although Newton was heartbroken with the result, he couldn’t deny that he was beaten by the better man.
He said: “The breaks certainly went his way in the playoff, but Tom went on to be the best player in the world for the next 10 years. I don’t think you can have any sour grapes by getting beaten by a player who was the best in the world for a decade.”
With success at Carnoustie the flood gates were thrown open, as Watson went onto win four more Open Championships in eight years and created a legacy that lives on to this day.