- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2009

TURNBERRY, Scotland

A little bit of magic perished in the gloaming Sunday at Turnberry. Stewart Cink by six strokes in a four-hole playoff over Tom Watson simply wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.

Tom Watson deserved better.

He deserved better than a lousy break at the 72nd hole, where his striped 8-iron approach bounded by the pin, through the green and snuggled up against the semi-rough. One revolution either way and Watson claims a record-tying sixth claret jug.

“He hit two great shots and was really unlucky to make a bogey,” said Watson’s playing partner, Mathew Goggin. “It was pretty squirrelly where he was. I mean, if he’s an inch closer, it’s probably an easy two-putt.”

That’s golf, of course. The rub of the green never chafes like it can on a links course. But rarely has that reality exhibited a lousier sense of timing.

Watson deserved better than a humiliating playoff nightmare that looked and felt like somebody pummeling your dad. For four days and 71 1/2 holes, Watson utterly belied both his age and the limits of credulity. You believed. You believed he could win, turning previous major eldest statesman Julius Boros (48 at the 1968 PGA Championship) into a comparative youngster.

Not until the playoff was it obvious that such a performance had taken every ounce of energy in his 59-year-old body. Watson looked more like a haggard 5-handicapper than an ageless five-time Open champion in posting bogey-scrambling par-double bogey-bogey in the anticlimactic dirge that left Cink holding the claret jug.

“The playoff was just one bad shot after another,” Watson said. “I didn’t give him much competition.”

By the time he reached the playoff, Major Tom had become Tired, Old Tom.

“I think Tom may have gotten a little tired at the end,” Cink said. “It’s a grueling week.”

Stewart Cink deserved better.

Sure, the 36-year-old American isn’t the most magnetic personality or accomplished champion. After all, he now has just six PGA Tour victories, and his previous defining major moment was a yipped bogey putt from 18 inches to force a playoff on the 72nd hole of the 2001 U.S. Open.

But he didn’t deserve to have his major coronation all but booed by the world’s golf fans. The guy shot 69 in testy, windy conditions in a major finale, jarred a clutch 15-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole and practically ran the table in the playoff (2 under) only to have the jug grudgingly handed to him with the suggestion that maybe he should fill it with vinegar.

“It’s not the first time I’ve been in that situation,” said Cink, now one of the game’s made men. “I’ve played plenty of times with Tiger and hearing the Tiger roars and with [Phil] Mickelson. I’m usually the guy that the crowd - they appreciate, but they’re not behind me 100 percent. You know they aren’t. That’s the sort of role I’ve been cast into for my whole career. And hey, that’s not the worst. It’s OK.”

Actually it’s rotten that Cink will be cast as golf’s John Dillinger by many, if not most, after such a brilliant performance.

And finally, sports’ concept of the plausible deserved better. If Watson could win the Open six weeks short of his 60th birthday and 26 years after his last major victory, then suddenly surrealism has a new elasticity. Sure, golf isn’t as dependent on the more youthful aspects of athleticism (strength, stamina, etc.) as most sports. But if Watson had found the nerve and touch to finish off an event he defined for four days, it would have expanded the parameters of sporting possibility or at least challenged notions of mysticism.

“The old fogey almost did it,” said Watson, who swallowed the whole satanic script like the hero he has always been. “I take from this week just a lot of warmth, a lot of spirituality in the sense that, you know, there was something out there. I still believe that. It helped me along. …

“The dream almost came true.”

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