HOYLAKE, England (AP) — Tom Watson’s ball rolled on to the 18th green at Royal Liverpool on Sunday and most of the spectators in the horseshoe grandstand gave him a prolonged standing ovation. And even a few shouts of “C’mon, Tom.”
The five-time British Open champion, doffing his cap as he walked up the fairway, has a way of doing that to a crowd, especially in Britain.
Watson’s putt for eagle just missed, leaving him with a 4-under 68 and a climb up the leaderboard past Tiger Woods, the man Ryder Cup captain Watson will consider as one of his three picks for September’s tournament at Gleneagles in Scotland.
The 64-year-old Watson finished at 1-over 289 for the tournament, five strokes better than Woods – who had a 75 Sunday.
“The last putt on the last hole,” Watson said. “It would have been nice to shoot a 67 and end even par. But I played a really solid round of golf … a very good day from tee to green.”
These days, Watson gets asked most about the Ryder Cup and not his own golf game.
On Sunday, that meant Woods and whether the game’s biggest draw card, who is just returning from back surgery, will be in Watson’s thoughts in early September – when three players will be added to nine who automatically qualify from points based on prize money earned in tournament play.
Asked if it was worrisome that he shot seven strokes better than a potential captain’s pick (Woods), Watson was non-committal: “It’s just one day. It’s a snapshot. It’s not a big deal.”
Watson missed just one fairway on Sunday – the 11th – and said his strong play gave him plenty of enthusiasm for next week’s British Senior Open at Royal Porthcawl in Wales.
“I don’t know anything about the golf course, but it’s fun to finish with a birdie and finish the way I did, and get ready to go to the next tournament,” Watson said. “You don’t feel like you have a burden that you’re taking with you.”
Watson has always been a crowd favorite in Britain thanks to his five Open wins.
He’ll no doubt be particularly popular in Scotland – where he’s won four of those links titles (at Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield and Royal Troon), despite leading the Americans against Europe in the often fiery environment of the Ryder Cup.
He’ll make at least one more appearance in the British Open after being invited back to St. Andrews for 2015. His fitness now or then shouldn’t be a problem – he reminded everyone after the third round on Saturday that during tournament weeks like this one, he walks at least 36 miles over six rounds of golf.
The guy most impressed with Watson on Sunday was his playing partner, Australian John Senden.
“My golf today was to see if I could catch him, but he just kept on playing great,” said Senden, who shot 71.
“It was a thrill to be out there with him. I’ve played with many of the legends of the game before – Tiger, Phil, Ernie and Greg Norman – but none the stature of what Tom Watson brings to the table.”