WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – The stage has been set for a Swilcan Bridge sendoff for Tom Watson.
Watson, a five-time winner of the Open Championship, has been extended an exemption by the R&A to make his 40th-anniversary appearance at St. Andrews in the 2015 edition, when he would be seven weeks shy of his 66th birthday.
Watson, who narrowly lost as a 59-year-old in the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, would be making his 38th appearance in golf’s oldest major championship. He is exempted into this month’s Open at Royal Liverpool by virtue of his playoff loss to Stewart Cink in 2009.
“Some of my finest memories in golf have come from playing in the Open Championship,” Watson said Tuesday at the Greenbrier Resort, site of this week’s PGA Tour event, where the announcement was made. “I am very proud and honored to be given this opportunity to play once again in St. Andrews next year. It is a special place for everyone in golf, and I am very much looking forward to playing there again in front of the wonderful Scottish galleries.
“The Open Championship is unlike any other event in golf, and to be part of its history is a privilege.”
Only Harry Vardon (six) has won more Open Championships, and only Gary Player (46) and Jack Nicklaus (38) have made more starts in golf’s oldest major.
Watson won in his Open Championship debut, in 1975 at Carnoustie, when he defeated Jack Newton by one stroke in an 18-hole playoff. Two years later, he edged Jack Nicklaus in the renowned “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry. He also won in 1980 (Muirfield), 1982 (Royal Troon) and 1983 (Royal Birkdale). Five years ago, he was bidding to become the Open’s oldest champion when he made bogey on the 72nd hole before losing to Cink in a four-hole playoff. In four decades, Watson has missed only the 1996, 2004 and ’07 Open Championships.
Watson, whose 39 PGA Tour titles include eight major championships, is a World Golf Hall of Fame member.
Peter Dawson, the R&A’s chief executive, lauded Watson.
“Tom is the most successful Open champion still playing today and has made a huge contribution to the championship over the last 40 years,” Watson said. “His performances in winning the Open on five occasions were truly outstanding, and to come so close to winning a sixth championship in 2009 demonstrates his longevity in the sport. We are delighted that he will he will be able to play in the Open next year, and I’m sure golf fans everywhere will look forward to seeing him play again at St. Andrews.”