Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Missed it by that much

A lot of people are calling Tom Watson’s showing at The Open Championship this past weekend one of the great moments in sports.


If Tom Watson had won it might have been one of the great moments in golf, but even then I doubt it. Tiger Woods, still struggling to find his stroke after reconstructive surgery on his knee, didn’t make the cut and Phil Mickelson skipped the event to be with his wife. Neither of them are exactly suited for the course at Turnberry, which penalizes the more powerful golfers on the tour, but you have to figure that it’s a lot easier for a the rest of the field to relax when Tiger’s not poised to make a late charge up the leader board.

At the age of 59, Watson would have been the oldest major champion in the history of golf, a mark that would likely stand the test of time but, given the circumstances, only as a trivia question. Ultimately, Watson put such a discussion to bed by failing to make a clinching put and ultimately fading in a playoff.

The fact that he essentially choked robs Stewart Cink of the adulation some think he deserves for winning the event. The story of the day is Watson’s run. Cink just managed to be in the right place at the right time. Some sports writers are trying to bring the focus back on Cink but because of the bar Tiger Woods has set, if you don’t win multiple majors most people think you’re a fluke. Cink’s career seems to support that notion. He’s a solid tour veteran with six career wins in 352 events played. He’s a respectable money earner but not a winner. So until he backs up his first major with, at the very least, a couple of top five finishes in the next four he plays this was just a lucky break. Besides, the fact remains that Tom Watson was eight feet away from closing the deal. Cink doesn’t deserve that much credit. If he had put up a low number that Watson couldn’t chase then we’d have a feather to stick in his cap.

The great story everybody was following this weekend went unfinished. The carriage turned into a pumpkin and Tom Watson’s beautiful gown morphed back into rags, seconds before he caught the eye of the handsome prince. Golf is a sport of winners and Tom Watson simply didn’t win. He played a couple of nice rounds of golf but he wasn’t at his best when it mattered most. Second place isn’t good enough. Not when you’re trying to frame this as one of the greatest moments in sports history.

As far as history is concerned, Watson’s finish is only better than Tiger’s from an academic standpoint. He posted a better score and took home more money but that’s about it. People who think that we’ll be talking about this moment years from now are nuts. At next year’s Open it will be a big deal and whenever some geezer stumbles into contention Watson’s name might surface. Other than that it will become part of Turnberry’s history. The vast majority of golf fans have already moved on and the vast majority of sports fans, many of whom couldn’t care less about golf, lost interest when Tiger Woods went home. Tom Watson was just a blurb on ESPN to them.

No offense to Tom, it’s nice to see him take one of those big checks that didn’t exist in his heyday. He got a little taste of the Tiger era and I’m sure he enjoyed it but his place in history hasn’t changed and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Unless you’re the 18-0 New England Patriots, second place is always second tier.

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