Watson gives Hoylake one last thrill with 68

Tom Watson fired a 4-under 68 on Sunday at Royal Liverpool in the final round of the 2014 British Open.
Tom Watson fired a 4-under 68 on Sunday at Royal Liverpool in the final round of the 2014 British Open. ( Getty Images )

Sunday, July 20, 2014

HOYLAKE, England – The ovations for Tom Watson at the Open Championship were long and heartfelt. Fans around the 18th stood twice for Watson on Sunday, reveling in the wonder of a 64-year-old who not only made it to the weekend at Royal Liverpool, but closed with a 4-under 68.

“It would’ve been nice to shoot 67 and end even par,” said Watson, who finished 1 over for the tournament, five strokes better than Tiger Woods.

Watson, a five-time Open champion, hit the par-5 18th in two, and excitement swelled as his lengthy eagle putt flirted with the hole. Next up for Watson is the Senior Open Championship this week at Royal Porthcawl in Wales. He conceded to knowing little of the golf course but said the strong finish will serve him well.

“You feel lighter,” said Watson, who had five birdies Sunday. “You don’t feel heavy ... like you have a burden that you’re taking with you. Keep it running, keep the engine running if you can.”

John Senden called playing alongside Watson “a thrill” and said he was trying to catch the Open icon as the round wore on. He didn’t, shooting 71 to finish at 3 over.

As Ryder Cup captain, Watson fielded more questions about his potential team than he did his game, which is somewhat unfortunate given the fact that he’s the oldest player to make the cut at this event.

This makes 37 Open Championships for Watson, with five victories among 15 top-25 finishes and only 11 missed cuts. After the Senior Open, Watson will play in the PGA Championship and then concentrate on his duties as captain.

Looking ahead to the afternoon and the task for 54-hole leader Rory McIlroy, Watson said the key to links golf is to avoid the land mines.

“The luxury that Rory has is that he’s got a six-shot lead,” Watson said. “He can have an explosion or two.”

Watson said he could relate to recent struggles by McIlroy but predicted he will come back stronger from his failures. All golfers experience it, Watson said.

“All of a sudden the light switch will turn on, something will change in your golf swing and it gets easy,” he said. “That’s what happened to me many times in my career, and it seems like it’s happened to Rory.”

On Sunday at Royal Liverpool, it looked easy once again for the Open legend.

Imagine the scene next summer at the Old Course, where Watson has been granted a special exemption on the 40th anniversary of his Open debut, a victory at Carnoustie, as he crosses the Swilcan Bridge one last time.

Just thinking about it brings a chill.