Nicklaus can share in Watson's disappointment

Updated: July 23, 2009

In the run-up to this year's Open Championship at Turnberry, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus fielded their share of requests to relive the 1977 Duel in the Sun, the first Open played at the course along the Ayrshire coast and one that remains one of the game's greatest dramas.

Watson shot 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66 over the final 36 holes -- paired together -- an epic if there ever was one.

That Watson was able to summon that magic again in 2009, 32 years later at age 59, will always be remembered -- despite the cruel ending that saw him come up a shot short when a par on the final hole would have made him the oldest major champion ever.

Nicklaus, watching at home in Florida, could relate. For all his victories, Nicklaus became quite good at being gracious in defeat, too. After all, he had 19 runner-up finishes in majors to go along with those 18 titles.

"Someone asked me, 'What will Tom take away from this?' My guess is it is the same thing I took away from 1977," Nicklaus said. "When people ask me what I remember most about 1977, I tell them, 'I remember I lost.' Knowing Tom, I think he will say the same thing, if he hasn't already."

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson

Brian Morgan/Getty Images

Jack Nicklaus lost a gut-wrenching British Open to Tom Watson in '77.

Nicklaus knows his friend and longtime rival well.

Earlier in the week, Watson joked about remembering every moment of Turnberry '77 while Nicklaus had a propensity for forgetting the details. It was a good-natured jab at his friend, but also a sign of human nature. It is much easier to remember the detail when you prevailed than when you did not.

And now that Watson has suffered his own cruel fate?

"Now it's going to be like Jack," he said. "I'll never remember what the hell club I hit anytime during the whole tournament."

Watson's comment was said with a smile and elicited laughter. A few moments earlier, he had remarked: "This ain't a funeral, you know."

But surely there has been disappointment in the days since, a replaying of the shots, the would-haves and should-haves. And yet, as Watson prepares to play in this week's British Senior Open at Sunningdale, it is hard to find much fault with what occurred Sunday.

Watson hit a perfect drive at the 18th hole and was between an 8-iron and a 9-iron for his approach. He hit it solid, and felt good about it in the air, only to see the ball land on the front of the green and roll all the way to the back and over, making for a tough up and down.

"What I felt so bad about on 18 was that Tom played a really good tee shot, a really good second shot, and he came about six inches from winning the tournament," Nicklaus said. "The ball rolled into a very awkward place to get it up-and-down from. It wasn't a mental error; it just happened. He then played the shot he should play in that situation, because if he tried to chip it, there's a chance he could have taken a 6.

"But the ball didn't come out the way he wanted it to. It just went too far, and he missed the putt. He just hit a bad putt. In that type of situation, unfortunately, it's very excusable. I know it's not what he wanted or expected to do. You saw his expression after he missed the putt. It was like, 'Oh boy.' He laughed, and that was it.

"I felt terrible for him. I felt badly for him."

Who didn't?

From there, you knew it would be a struggle, a letdown. Stewart Cink, who moved to No. 9 in the world rankings this week, never led in the tournament until he moved into a tie for the lead with his birdie putt at 18.

But he was the only player who began the day within 5 shots of the lead who broke par. His 69 ended up being quite impressive. He did what he had to do, then took care of business in the playoff, and was gracious toward Watson.

"Tom should be so proud of himself," Nicklaus said. "I know he's not happy, but he should be so pleased about his performance. He was 1 shot out of the lead after the first round, tied for lead after the second round and in the lead after the third round.

"Tom handled himself beautifully all week; he handled himself well the entire time. He knew he wouldn't play every shot perfectly, but he just moved on and played the next one. He showed a lot of class."

Major breakthrough

Stewart Cink admitted there were times he wondered whether a victory in a major championship would ever come. Before he captured the Open on Sunday in a playoff with Tom Watson, Cink's best finish in a major had been third, which he had done three times.

But one came at the 2001 U.S. Open, where he missed a playoff at Southern Hills by a stroke when he three-putted the final green, missing a 2-footer for par when he thought his birdie putt was necessary to tie. A moment later, Retief Goosen's three-putt meant a playoff with Mark Brooks.

"It wouldn't be human not to wonder … is that going to be my closest one?" Cink said. "There were always some doubts there. But there were also a lot of positives that week for me. I came really close to winning. I hung there right to the end, birdied the 17th hole on Sunday to pull into a tie. So there were good things and there were bad things.

"It lingered a little bit. It was embarrassing. That's golf. You put yourself out there in front of the world stage, and sometimes you're going to be embarrassed a little bit. But now hopefully I can move past it. I've had a couple of wins since then, too, but this is a new chapter for me."

A look at this week's venue

Glen Abbey Golf Club, in Oakville, Ontario, is again the site for the RBC Canadian Open. The Jack Nicklaus design will host the national championship for the 25th time, although in recent years the tournament has gone back to moving to other venues throughout Canada.

Glen Abbey measures 7,222 yards and plays to a par of 71. Last year, it ranked as the 33rd most difficult of 54 venues with Chez Reavie's winning total of 267, 17 under par.

The tournament is one of the oldest on the PGA Tour schedule, dating to 1904 when it was first played at Royal Montreal Golf Club. In the early years, the tournament moved across the country, but after Nicklaus designed Glen Abbey in 1976, the tournament had a near-permanent home. In 2001, tournament organizers began taking it around the country again, although this is the second straight year at Glen Abbey.


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Birdies and bogeys

Birdies:

1. Stewart Cink. The only player within five of the lead who shot under par at the Open in the final round, Cink was a deserving winner even though he played a part in ruining a great story.

2. Tom Watson. What more can you say about the five-time Open champ's performance? It was something to see.

3. Chris Wood. A year after tying for fifth at the Open as an amateur, the Englishman came back and nearly stole the tournament before tying for third, a stroke out of the playoff.

Bogeys:

1. Lee Westwood. There have been some close calls for the Englishman, and going for birdie on the final hole -- leading to a three-putt bogey -- was understandable. But the fact is he bogeyed three of the last four and missed a playoff by a stroke.

2. Tiger Woods. He suffered the fate of so many, an untimely stretch of holes that took him from the brink of contention to missing the cut. It happens, just not to Woods. At least not very often.

3. Monty-Sandy saga. The spat between the two Scotsmen was overcooked from the beginning, and neither Colin Montgomerie nor Sandy Lyle could help himself. The whole thing leaves a bad taste.

The Champions Challenge

Next year's British Open at St. Andrews will mark the 150th anniversary of the championship -- it was first played in 1860 -- and the festivities will include the four-hole Champions Challenge in which past champions will be invited back to participate in a Wednesday afternoon best-ball competition on the first, second, 17th and 18th holes of the Old Course.

There are rumblings that ESPN -- which will tee off four-round broadcast rights to the event in 2010 -- will televise the Champions Challenge, much in the manner that it now carries the Par 3 Contest on the day before the first round of the Masters at Augusta National.

In 2000, 22 past champions participated, including Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Peter Thomson, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Tony Jacklin and Lee Trevino. At the age of 88, just two years before his death, Snead was a particular favorite at the event. Snead won the Open at St. Andrews in 1946 and had not returned to the course since.

Notables

• Steve Stricker has moved to the top of the FedEx Cup standings by a slim eight points over Tiger Woods. The Canadian Open starts a run of five tournaments that will conclude the regular season.
• Stewart Cink made a big move, jumping from 56th to 13th in the standings, just 489 points out of the top five -- who are guaranteed the FedEx Cup title with a victory at the last playoff event, the Tour Championship.
• Tom Watson is now 108th in FedEx Cup points and would qualify for the playoffs if the competition ended today. The top 125 will get to tee it up at The Barclays two weeks after the PGA Championship.
• This week marks the 100th playing of the RBC Canadian, which began in 1904. And it will be the 25th time it is played at Glen Abbey outside of Toronto.
• Trevor Immelman, who has been out since the Colonial, is expected to return at the Canadian Open. Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion, has been battling a wrist injury and missed the U.S. Open and the British Open.

Quotable

"It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn't it? It would have been a hell of a story. It wasn't to be. And yes, it's a great disappointment. It tears at your gut, as it always has torn at my gut. It's not easy to take."
-- Tom Watson after finishing second to Stewart Cink at the Open Championship.

Catching up with last year's champ

Chez Reavie parlayed his victory at last year's Canadian Open into a successful season in which he won more than $1.4 million. It was one of his two top-10 finishes on the season. But things have not been going so well for the 27-year-old, second-year player in 2009.

Since a tie for 12th at the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, Reavie has just one other top-25 finish, and that came the next week at the Sony Open. He has missed 11 cuts in 20 events and has earned just $267,000 and is 170th in FedEx Cup points. He is coming off a missed cut at the John Deere Classic.

Canadian Open picks

Birdie Buster. Mike Weir. The sentimental favorite to win in his home country, Weir was in the hunt last year at Glen Abbey and had a tough playoff loss to Vijay Singh at the course in 2004.

Horse for the Course. Luke Donald. The Englishman is coming off a tie for fifth at the British Open, where he tied for the low round of the day with a final-round 67.

Super Sleeper. Trevor Immelman. The 2008 Masters champion hasn't played since May while recovering from a wrist injury, but he has two top-10s in his past two Canadian Opens, although neither was at Glen Abbey.

Winner. Anthony Kim. He flirted with the title a year ago until a final-round 75 did him in and, despite a missed cut at the British Open, has shown signs of getting his game together recently.