Tom Watson says farewell to British golf as Bernhard Langer rolls on

As one sixtysomething, Tom Watson, said his final farewell to the British golfing public, another, Bernhard Langer, continued to defy Old Father Time. On the day Watson brought down the curtain on his Senior Open Championship career, Langer claimed that title for a record fourth time with a two-shot success at Royal Lytham.
Tom Watson takes the acclaim of the galleries during his final   competitive round of links golf. Picture: Getty.Tom Watson takes the acclaim of the galleries during his final   competitive round of links golf. Picture: Getty.
Tom Watson takes the acclaim of the galleries during his final competitive round of links golf. Picture: Getty.

On a day when heavy rain left the Lancashire course flooded in the morning before a break in the weather allowed play to get underway at 1.30pm, Langer chalked up another
remarkable victory in the over-50s ranks around an hour after Watson had completed his final competitive round of links golf.

Due to a two-tee start being implemented to try and get the event finished without it spilling over to an extra day, the five-time Open and three-time Senior Open winner started at the tenth and, therefore, finished at the ninth. That didn’t seem the right send off for the best links player of his generation and it was a real pity that Mother Nature also denied the 69-year-old being cheered every step of the way by thousands of spectators.

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Instead, he was followed by a group of around just 300 as he played the 16th and 17th towards the end of his front nine, though, taking in the members in the clubhouse and out on a balcony, that had probably doubled as he made his way up the 18th. His two playing partners, Peter O’Malley and Gary Wolstenholme, stopped before reaching the green and stepped aside to join the crowd in applauding Watson, who bowed to the fans in the greenstand on one side then those in a hospitality
pavilion on the other before throwing his arms open after blowing a kiss to everyone else.

A couple of hours later, at the furthest point from the clubhouse, the crowd had probably risen to four figures as Watson hit the hole with a birdie putt. The weather had turned miserable again by then, but his smile lit up the place. He gave a thumbs up then one final wave as he disappeared over the mound and into a van to make the journey back to the scorer’s cabin close to the 18th green.

“I had a few flashbacks here and there from past Open Championships,” admitted Watson after signing for a three-over 73 to finish joint-64th on nine-over. “Lytham is one tough golf course. It got the best of me again, but I got the best of a few other courses in the rotation.”

He did indeed and, as he rides off into the sunset to pursue a new career in cutting, western-style equestrian competition, he said of the unwavering support he received from British golf fans from the day he won his first Claret Jug on his debut at Carnoustie in 1975 all the way through to this swansong: “I’ll never miss it because I’ll remember it. The fans have come and watched me for all these years, I owe them a great deal for pumping me up a lot of times when I was playing the golf tournaments. I hope that I’ve given a little bit back in the sense that I’ve played the game the way it should be played.”

While the way Langer plays the game is maybe a little bit too slow for some people’s liking, there is no denying the German’s ability and this closing effort – a four-under 66 for a six-under 274 total – was up there with his best. With his long putter on fire, the 61-year-old birdied the second, fourth, seventh and ninth to be out in 30. The last of those birdies gave him the lead and, all of a sudden he was four clear, as a 50-footer dropped at the 14th.

Adding to successes in 2010 (Carnoustie), 2014 (Royal Porthcawl) and 2017 (Royal Porthcawl), he is the first player to win this event four times and now has 11 senior majors to his name. “There’s nobody in the game so far has won more than nine, so it means a great deal to have done something that nobody else has done, not even the great Jack Nicklaus or Gary Player or Tom Watson,” he said. “My putter was red hot today. But the theme of the week was really the strength of the Lord. I have a pastor friend that comes to this tournament every year, and he gave me a little piece of paper every day with a Bible verse on it. That was the theme of the week and I felt that strength today.”

While a closing 70 for a one-over total and a share of 16th spot with defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez saw him finish as the leading Scot on his debut in the event, Paul Lawrie was left to rue a poor last day on the greens. “There’s a pile of frustration,” he said. “It’s a joke. I was giving away shots left, right and centre, really.”

After two late birdies, Colin Montgomerie signed off with a 71 for two-over, while Gary Orr saved his best until last as he closed with a 67 for seven-over, six better than Andrew Oldcorn (77).

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