When Tom Watson birdied the 71st hole to lead by one, just as he had done 32 years previously, it appeared he really could win a sixth Open title at the age of 59 and nine months on from hip-replacement surgery.
“It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn’t it?” Watson said. “It wasn’t to be. The dream almost came true.”
His second shot at the last ran just over the green and then he putted eight feet past the hole. The putt for victory betrayed his age, it never looked like going in and the deflation around the course was acute.
Instead, step forward Stewart Cink. In the slightly surreal atmosphere of the four-hole play-off, the 36-year-old gentle giant from Georgia held his composure to win his first major championship.
He was two under par for the play-off while a tired Watson finished four over par.
A joyful Cink felt for the runner-up. “To play against Tom Watson in the play-off, it was mixed emotions,” he said. “I have watched him with such admiration this week.”
On a course where he had played in three Opens, winning in 1977, and two Senior Opens, winning one of them, Watson opened with a 65 to be one off the lead.
“There was something spiritual about today. I feel inspired playing here again,” he said. He led for the next two days but fell at the very last hurdle, as did Lee Westwood with a three-putt at the 72nd hole. Cink, however, had birdied the last from 16 feet. “It will be the most crucial putt of my life,” he said.
Italy’s Matteo Manassero, aged 16, became the youngest ever winner of the Silver Medal for the leading amateur in the 60 years it has been awarded. He finished tied for 13th place.