- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 14, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND (AP) - Tom Watson knew the old guys were in his corner.

What caught him off guard was all the young folks who were inspired by his heartbreaking loss at last year’s British Open.

“I hadn’t had any kids come up to me for years. It was always kids coming up to me saying, ‘My grandmother loves you,’” Watson said Wednesday with a chuckle. “But these kids came up and said, ‘Hey, Mr. Watson, that was great last year at the British Open.’ That’s been a wonderful sidelight to what happened.”

Imagine what it would have been like if the putt on the 72nd hole had dropped in the cup instead of bending off weakly at the end.

Eight feet. That’s how close Watson was to becoming a champion for the ages.

A few months shy of his 60th birthday and poised to become the oldest major winner in golf history _ no one else was even close _ he nearly pulled it off. But an approach shot that went a little too far and a potential clinching par putt that never had a chance snuffed out the fairy-tale ending.

Watson finished regulation tied with Stewart Cink, who won the four-hole playoff in a rout. All Watson could do was watch as someone else claimed the claret jug, the cherished prize that everyone outside of Cink’s immediate family was pulling for the 59-year-old to win.

What could have been perhaps “the greatest sporting achievement,” in the words of three-time Open winner Nick Faldo, wound up being a cruel blow for one of golf’s greatest champions. Watson won eight major titles, five of them at the Open, but this generation will remember him for the one that got away.

“This game delivered a scarring to him,” Faldo said. “To get that close, to almost get your hands on it, was hard. Unbelievably hard.”

Watson insists that he got over the disappointment in about 24 hours. But make no mistake, it sure hurt when he stood there on the 18th green at Turnberry, congratulating Cink on his first major title.

“The loss is hard to take,” Watson said. “It tore my guts up. But my guts have been torn up before out here in this game.”

He recalled bouncing back from a final-round collapse at the 1974 U.S. Open to win his first professional tournament a few weeks later. And coming back from another U.S. Open disappointment in ‘75 to capture his first major title at Carnoustie.

“There’s kind of a bounce-back thing in me,” said Watson, who won his last major title in 1983.

Most heartening, perhaps, has been the reaction of fans his own age.

“They come up to me and say, ‘Tom, it was wonderful. I couldn’t stop watching what happened last year,’” Watson said. “It’s been a wonderful time talking with people who frankly said, ‘You’ve given me hope that I can still do it at my age. I’m the same age as you, Tom. I’m 60 years old and I’ve given up on the game or given up on something else, and you’ve literally given me some hope and actually desire to keep at it,’ whatever it takes to keep at it, because it’s just that number.

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