As fitting as possible, the sun had gone down by the time Tom Watson left the course for the final time at The Open Championship on Friday; the 65-year-old having played the event 40 times – winning the title five times.
Watson called the final moments, “a time for joy, not sadness. The fans were so appreciative and their applause made me feel very humble.”
Watson could have waited until the next day to finish his round, along with Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker; the weather had already started making a mess of things. But instead he finished on his own terms, instead of waiting around throughout a 10-1/2 hour weather delay Saturday to play a last few holes and take away the focus from those in contention.
Watson won the Open Championship five times between 1975 and 1983, and was a hole away from making it six in 2009 when he led through 71 holes at age 60.
Here’s a look back at his five wins at The Open.
1975 at Carnoustie (Scotland) – Watson was all of 25 years old when he entered the field at Carnoustie, his first time at that particular Major. Since the PGA Championship in 1973, he had become a rising force on the tour, finishing 12th there, tied for fifth at the US Open in 1974 and for 11th at the ’74 PGA Championship, then started out 1975 by tying for eighth at Augusta and ninth at the US Open. He was part of a feverish start at Carnoustie, and was 3 strokes off the lead through 54 despite being 9-under. Other players folded on Sunday, and he remained at 9-under to tie Jack Newton for the lead and a playoff. Playing in a steady rain, the two men were tied after 17 holes, with Watson birdying the final hole for the win.
1977 at Turnberry (Scotland) – After missing the cut in 1976, he and Jack Nicklaus put on a battle for the ages, shooting identical rounds of 68, 70, and 65 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. They remained knotted until the 17th hole on Sunday, where Watson birdied and Nicklaus parred. Nicklaus put the pressure on with a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 18, but Watson’s approach shot came within two feet and he sunk the short putt for a 1-stroke victory, giving him two Majors for the year after winning his first Masters three months earlier.
1980 at Muirfield (Scotland) – After going three years without winning a Major, Watson was three shots behind a fast-starting Lee Trevion through two rounds. His blistering 64 on Saturday reversed that course and put him up four strokes, and he maintained that lead to finish 13-under.
1982 at Troon (Scotland) – Watson had added the 1981 Masters and 1982 US Open on his way back to Scotland, and became the first man since Trevino in 1971 to win the US and The Open in succession in one year – only Tiger Woods (2000) has done it since. The tournament looked over by the end of the second round, with the US’ Bobby Clampett off to a 5-stroke lead at 11-under, and Watson tied for fifth at 4-under. But Clampett unraveled on Saturday with a 78, and Watson entered the final round 3 strokes out of the lead, but still behind four other players. His final round 70 wasn’t the best of the tournament, but it held him at 4-under as other players fell apart, giving him a 1-stroke win.
1983 at Southport (England) – For the first time, Watson’s title came outside of Scotland. He took the lead on Saturday and made a final-round 70 hold up for the second straight year to win by a stroke, finishing 9-under.
Watson would not win another title at The Open, but he would give fans plenty of thrills, finishing tied for second in 1984, and in the Top 10 in 1987, 1989, 1993, 1994, and 2009.