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Winner or Not, Watson’s Feat Astonishes

All together now, my fellow baby boomers...


Couldn't reality have waited 10 more minutes, before lowering the boom on Tom Watson? Who decided to pull the plug on his magic on the 72nd hole of the British Open, so we all had to watch it drain away, like water out of a bathtub?

Never mind the simple history of the feat. This would have been one of the most extraordinary moments that golf - or any sport - has ever seen. We geezers could have risen, temporarily unaware of aching knees and bad backs, and toasted our new ageless hero with our pill cases. This Lipitor's for you, Tom.

"It would have been a hell of story, wouldn't it?" Watson said at his press conference afterward.

It was anyway.

Let's all try to think of a second-place finisher - any sport, any place, any level - who deserves more applause, more honor or more gratitude.

I'm drawing a blank, how about you?

We can dispense quickly with the details of the unhappy ending to the fairy tale. How on No. 18, Watson's nine-foot putt to clinch never had a chance. Or how in the playoff, he finally became a 59-year-old man again, chasing an impossible dream against younger generations.

Here's one way to look at Sunday's playoff pairing. Watson's last major title was the 1983 British Open. The day Watson won, Stewart Cink was 10 years old. When Watson won his first British Open, Cink was 2.

So 73 holes, and 74, and 75, and 76 were too much to ask. Watson aged by the shot in that last hour Sunday.

Nothing personal against Cink, for it is not easy being a thundershower on the parade. Matter of fact, it was impossible not to have sympathy for him. Who wants to win your first major and feel something like a trespasser?

When Cink hugged his family afterward, he had the look on television of a deserving, heartening champion. Most years, he would have owned the center stage, lock, stock and Claret Jug. Not this year.

Ageless feats have been seen and lauded before. Gordie Howe played NHL hockey past 50. Nolan Ryan threw a no-hitter at 44. George Blanda kicked a field goal in the AFC Championship Game at 48. Dara Torres won Olympic swimming medals at 41. Satchel Paige pitched in a major league game at 59. Jack Nicklaus set the gold standard in golf with a Masters title at 46.

All remarkable enough. But Watson's British Open broke the needle of the astonishment-o-meter. And the moment should not be sullied with that old argument about whether golfers are athletes or not. Absolutely not the point.

The point is inspiration. That is always a goal of sport, at it's pure, Nike-commercial best. Who fulfills the mission better than the man doing something that both his age and logic say he cannot do?

Somewhere about the time the first AARP membership offer comes in the mail, we all understand the tolls of the years, and that time is the most relentless opponent of all.

So along comes a man pushing 60, older than every winner this season on the PGA Champions senior tour, and he ends up one par short of the British Open title. It wasn't just amazing. Watson passed amazing on Friday.

Somewhere out there, Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and Gary Player - gods of the sport - were probably watching, understanding better than any of us. They assumed, as we all did, that the Sunday cheers stop by the age of 59. By then, the game is someone else's.

"It reminded me," Watson said, "of what it used to be like."

What to say about a man who gave us a glimpse of yesterday, and a example that the clock can be beaten, if only for a weekend?


A genuine miracle, it was. Almost.

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