For 71 holes, The Open of 2009 was all about one man – the legendary Tom Watson.
At the age of 59, and just nine months after hip-replacement surgery, the five-time Champion Golfer led the field going into the final day.
An improbable, record-equalling sixth Claret Jug was very much on the cards – and this unforgettable fourth round is the subject of the latest episode of our Great Final Days series.
A bogey-free opening-round 65 reminded us of Watson’s mastery of links golf.
Any doubts as to the American’s major stamina were quashed as he kept himself in the hunt over the weekend, posting a four-under-par 206 to lead after 54 holes.
Impressive as it was, he was just a shot clear of Ross Fisher and Mathew Goggin, with Lee Westwood and Stewart Cink also not far away.
Despite his unquestionable record, perhaps the weight of expectation hampered Watson in the early stages of the final round as he bogeyed two of the first three holes to relinquish his one-shot advantage to Fisher.
It wasn’t the last time the lead would change hands on a tumultuous Sunday.
Indeed, Fisher’s spell at the head of the table was short-lived; a quadruple bogey on the 5th putting paid to his chances.
Another home favourite emerged from the pack in the shape of Westwood, with an eagle on the 7th suddenly giving him a two-shot lead.
But Watson displayed the resilience and brilliance you would expect from an eight-time major winner – and birdies on 7 and 11 brought him back level with the Worksop Wonder and a resurgent Goggin.
With Watson’s chance of becoming by far the oldest major winner growing by the second, an erratic run of three birdies and two bogeys in six holes allowed Cink to quietly climb the leaderboard and put himself firmly in contention.
He would need others around him to falter and that’s exactly what happened as Watson dropped a shot on the 14th, while Westwood posted successive bogeys on 15 and 16 to fall back to one-under.
A wonderful approach into the last gave Cink a look at birdie, and a putt that would prove crucial by the end of proceedings as the Alabama native entered the clubhouse with a share of the lead on two-under-par.
“I never felt like I was in it, I never felt like I was out of it,” he said. “At that point I knew I had maybe done something.”
And yet the story was still all about Watson – despite Westwood’s brilliance on the 18th, and what his caddie Billy Foster called ‘the greatest fairway bunker shot I’ve ever seen in my life.’
To the delight of the packed grandstands at Turnberry – the venue for Watson’s second Open triumph and the famous ‘Duel In The Sun’ showdown with Jack Nicklaus – a birdie on 17 gave the crowd favourite a one-shot lead going into the last.
He was just four good strokes away from surpassing Julius Boros as the oldest major champion, a record now held by Phil Mickelson.
Watson sent a solid drive down the middle of the 18th fairway, leaving him 187 yards from the pin. As the hushed galleries watched on, he plucked an 8-iron from his bag and hit a typically exquisite approach shot.
Watson, the ultimate links player, appeared to have judged it to perfection – so how the ball ended up trickling off the back of the green is anyone's guess.
“Maybe my ball caught that gust of wind and rode that wind and took the spin off the ball," he suggested afterwards. "But it landed right where I wanted it to. It just didn’t have enough spin on it to stop the ball, but it was coming down right on the flag.”
Whatever the reason, the unlucky bounce left him a with a devilish two-putt for victory. The first rolled some 12 feet past the hole. And to the disappointment of golf romantics everywhere, he was unable to recreate his heroics from yesteryear as an agonising bogey meant he slipped into a play-off with Cink.
Perhaps fatigued from his unlikely four-day title tilt, Watson was unable to sustain the challenge, allowing a re-energised Cink to pull clear, eventually winning the extra four holes by six shots to claim his maiden major crown.
“The old fogey almost did it,” said a magnanimous Watson.
It wasn’t to be in 2009, but Watson’s place in Open history had long been secured.