ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - Five-times champion Tom Watson is going through the full gamut of emotions ahead of his final British Open next month but he is certain of one thing, he does not want to bow out with a whimper.
The 2014 edition at Royal Liverpool was due to be the veteran American’s swansong appearance and he is grateful the Royal & Ancient organizers tweaked their rules to allow him a special exemption to sign off at St Andrews, the ‘Home of Golf’.
“The anticipation is getting closer and closer to my final Open championship and it’s going to be a very special time,” Watson, 65, told Reuters in an interview held by the first tee at the iconic Old Course.
“I feel maybe a little bit melancholy but the memories of all the years playing in the Open will make it pretty happy. I’ve had a wonderful experience playing here in the Open for these last 40 years.”
Despite his advancing years, Watson is keen to avoid the tag of ‘ceremonial golfer’ by ensuring he makes the halfway cut and is still competing in the final two rounds at the weekend.
“I want to walk across the Swilcan Bridge on the Sunday, that’s my goal, and anything else will be gravy,” he said.
Watson won the coveted Claret Jug in 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983 and came within a whisker of pulling off one of the greatest victories in sport when, as a 59-year-old, he lost a playoff against compatriot Stewart Cink at Turnberry in 2009.
His St Andrews farewell is likely to be even more emotional because his son will be alongside him as he strides down the seaside links.
“I very much look forward to it,” said eight-times major winner Watson who also triumphed at the 1977 and 1981 U.S. Masters and at the 1982 U.S. Open.
”My son Michael will caddie for me and it will be great to have him on my bag and walk the golf course for the last time in an Open championship.
“I know it will be a sad time finishing up my Open championships but it will be a happy time to be able to finish it here at St Andrews with my son Michael on my bag.”
Watson told Reuters last year that he shed an ocean of tears when his great rival Jack Nicklaus made his farewell at the same venue in 2005.
“I had real strong feelings about Jack in his final round in the Open at St Andrews,” he said.
“I was crying like a baby from the tee to the green on 18. Jack’s the greatest player in the game, he means a great deal to me, he was the man I wanted to beat.”
Watson believes the layout of the Fife links could allow him to mix it with world number one Rory McIlroy and company one last time.
”There’s an equalizer in the course as far as the run of the ball, the runout,“ he said. ”A lot of the youngsters, the long hitters, will be laying up short of the bunkers and for an old guy like me I just hit my driver and may end up in pretty much the same place.
”But there are a lot of other things you have to do well. First and foremost you have to have a very good touch with your putting because you have so many long putts here.
“It’s the only course in the world I’ve ever played where you can play a good round of golf and you can have 10 60-foot putts,” explained Watson who is an ambassador for Polo Ralph Lauren, a patron and official outfitter of the 144th Open.
The American, who won four of his five Opens in Scotland, said his highlight victory came in the so-called ‘duel in the sun’ 38 years ago.
“The one that stands out the most is the one in 1977 at Turnberry where I played with Jack in the last two rounds and I prevailed by a shot,” said Watson.
“That was kind of a watershed moment in my career that gave me the belief I can play against the best players.”
Watson was sanguine when he looked back at his near-miss at Turnberry in 2009 when he led going into the final round.
“I actually gave myself a pretty good chance of winning the tournament even though I was 59,” he said.
”I was there until the end and unfortunately the ball went over the (18th) green and I couldn’t get the ball up and down from the back. Stewart hit every ball perfectly in the playoff and he was the champion.
“It goes into the category of woulda, shoulda, coulda.”
The Open, golf’s oldest major, starts on July 16.
Editing by Douglas Beattie