In 38 appearances at The Open between 1975 and 2015, Tom Watson provided countless magical moments.
To celebrate his birthday on September 4, we have picked out six of the most memorable shots in golf’s original Championship from the five-time Champion.
1975, Carnoustie – “And back at thee, Mr Newton!”
Watson will tell you it took him years to feel comfortable on links courses, but that did not stop the American from winning on his debut appearance in The Open, at Carnoustie in 1975.
An 18-hole Sunday play-off was required after Australia’s Jack Newton and Watson had each posted nine-under aggregates for 72 holes.
The extra holes proved tantalisingly tense as no more than a single shot separated the pair from the fifth green onwards, but Watson landed a telling blow on the par-5 14th.
With both players sat at level-par, Newton produced a delightful chip with his third shot to leave a tap-in for birdie and pile the pressure on his opponent, who was pin high but right of the green in two.
Watson’s response could not have been better. A deft chip-in secured an eagle three and he would go on to win by a single stroke.
“And back at thee, Mr Newton,” Peter Alliss can be heard to exclaim in the Official Film of the Championship as Watson’s chip finds its target. Members of The One Club can see how the drama unfolded 42 minutes into the video below.
1977, Turnberry – Peaking under pressure
Rounds three and four of The 106th Open at Turnberry delivered unforgettable drama, as the ‘Duel in the Sun’ saw Watson and Jack Nicklaus storm clear of their fellow competitors amid glorious weather at Turnberry.
Both men shot 65 on Friday, before Watson repeated the trick in Saturday’s final round to pip Nicklaus by one, with the third-placed Hubert Green a further 10 shots back.
While there were highlights aplenty from Watson and Nicklaus, it was the former’s penultimate stroke that ultimately proved decisive.
Watson could have been forgiven for playing it safe with his approach to 18 given he led by a stroke and his opponent was in thick rough on the edge of a gorse bush to the right of the fairway.
However, knowing all too well what Nicklaus was capable of, the leader continued to attack and effectively sealed a second Open title in three years with a sensational 7-iron to inside two feet.
Nicklaus salvaged a remarkable three, somehow finding the green from his horrendous lie and then converting a mammoth putt to ensure his rival needed a birdie of his own, yet that was a formality following Watson’s wonderful second shot – a stroke that epitomised his ability to excel under the greatest pressure.
1982, Royal Troon – A timely eagle
Watson and a host of other star names were initially blown away as Bobby Clampett opened up an extraordinary seven-shot lead through 41 holes at Royal Troon.
Clampett would falter badly thereafter, however, and Watson took advantage as he gradually improved his position on the final day.
A key moment in the final round came at the 11th, which played as a par-5 at the time. Watson’s second was a perfectly struck 3-iron that threatened the pin and set up the simplest of putts for eagle.
The resulting three moved Watson into a tie for the lead and, although Nick Price briefly moved clear with a flurry of birdies, a fourth Open title would eventually come the way of the American as his inexperienced rival struggled down the stretch.
1983, Royal Birkdale – “I busted that 2-iron as well as I could hit it”
The following year brought yet another Open title for Watson and another fabulous iron shot when it mattered most.
Birdies at Royal Birkdale’s 11th, 13th and 16th holes left the defending Champion needing just a par at the final hole to finish ahead of Hale Irwin and Andy Bean.
Finding the green in regulation was no simple task as Watson lined up a 2-iron from 218 yards, but he once again proved up to the challenge with the Claret Jug on the line.
“I busted that 2-iron as well as I could hit it,” said Watson of a sweet strike to 20 feet, from where he two-putted to claim a fifth win at golf’s original Championship in nine attempts.
2009, Turnberry – Same great strike, different result
In 1977 and 1983, Watson fired approach shots straight down the flag on the 72nd hole on his way to victory in The Open. And in 2009, he very nearly repeated the feat as he threatened to pull off one of the most astonishing triumphs in sporting history.
Just a few weeks shy of his 60th birthday, the five-time Champion Golfer produced a links golf masterclass at Turnberry and sent the crowd into dreamland when he birdied the 17th in the final round to reclaim sole possession of the lead.
After finding the fairway on the final hole, Watson knew just one more accurate shot was required. In a display of his enduring class, he was once again bang on line with his approach, but there was to be a cruel twist.
Unlike in 1977, when his ball had stopped sharply besides the flag on Turnberry’s 18th green, Watson’s second shot in 2009 appeared to ride on a gust of wind, sending the ball past the pin and through the green.
When Watson failed to get up and down, it meant a bogey five and a play-off with Stewart Cink, who would go on to prevail in extra holes.
Yet although it did not deliver the desired result, Watson’s final approach shot in regulation play undoubtedly provided one of the most memorable moments in The Open’s history, as an expectant crowd waited with bated breath to see if a fairy tale victory could be completed.
“It landed right where I wanted it to,” said Watson. “It just didn’t have enough spin on it to stop the ball, but it was coming down right on the flag. It was coming down right on the flag just like it was in ’77.”
2011, Royal St George’s – A glorious ace
Even after he had turned 60, Watson was still more than capable of excelling at The Open.
He picked the perfect place to turn on the style at Royal St George’s in 2011, making a hole-in-one in front of huge crowds at the par-3 sixth.