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History of The Open

Tom Watson at Turnberry


A tale of two shots to 18

Tom Watson Turnberry 2009 1977

“It landed right where I wanted it to...  it was coming down right on the flag.” This is Tom Watson's description of a key shot he once played at Turnberry’s 72nd hole, but perhaps not the one you would think.

In 1977, one of the greatest Open Championships in history culminated in the Duel in the Sun, as Watson and Jack Nicklaus streaked clear of the field and traded birdies at Turnberry in a magnificent final-round shootout.

A stunning approach to the par-4 18th from Watson ultimately proved decisive, leaving a putt of no more than two feet. Although Nicklaus salvaged a miraculous birdie of his own after a wayward drive, Watson’s closing three completed a five-under round of 65 and secured victory by a single stroke.

On that occasion, Watson produced class when it came to his second shot at Turnberry’s final hole. In 2009, over three decades later, he did so again, albeit with an altogether different result. The approach in 2009 was the fateful shot Watson was describing.

If The Open Championship of 1977 at Turnberry was among the most memorable editions of golf’s original major, The 138th Open at the same venue in 2009 proved no less dramatic.

Even now, more than a decade on, it can be hard to comprehend the scale of Watson’s achievement at the latter Championship, as he came within a whisker of securing a sixth Open title.

Only one player - Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship in 2021 - has ever won a major after turning 50, yet Watson was on the brink of accomplishing the feat just a handful of weeks shy of his 60th birthday following a truly remarkable performance on Scotland’s west coast.

After defying all expectations by remaining in contention throughout the week, the 59-year-old reached the final hole in the same situation as he found himself in 1977, leading by a solitary stroke after a birdie on the 71st hole.

Suddenly, the impossible dream looked set to become a reality, particularly after the five-time Champion Golfer found the perfect position on the right-hand side of the fairway at 18.

Just as he had done at Turnberry back in 1977, Watson connected sweetly with his approach shot and sent it on the ideal line. However, a strong supporting wind prevented the ball from landing as softly as he had hoped, and it ended up over the back of the green.

The crowd favourite was unable to get down in two and was beaten in the subsequent play-off by Stewart Cink. Yet while defeat proved painful for Watson, the Kansas City native hit his second shot on the final hole of regulation play exactly as he intended.

In his Chronicles of a Champion Golfer film, Watson said: “We chose an 8-iron from 187 yards and, as people told me, they said when that ball landed on the green, there was a gust of wind that went with it.

"Maybe my ball caught that gust of wind and rode that wind and took the spin off the ball. Maybe. 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. It was coming down right on the flag just like it was in ’77.”

Watson knows better than most that there will simply be occasions on coastal courses when the bounce of the ball does not go your way.

“The ultimate links golfer is one who can accept the bad bounces with the good bounces, because they’re going to even out,” he added.

Few would argue with Watson being described as the ultimate links golfer. He may not have got the bounce he wanted at Turnberry’s final hole in 2009, but his second shot epitomised his enduring class, 32 years on from his first Ayrshire triumph.

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