(Reuters) - The man who played with Tom Watson in the final round of the 2009 British Open believes, perversely, that a good putt on the penultimate hole may have cost the American an astonishing victory and a place in the record books.Watson, then 59, agonisingly failed to make history as the oldest major winner after he bogeyed the final hole at Turnberry, before losing a playoff to compatriot Stewart Cink.
With his Australian playing partner Mathew Goggin looking on, Watson hit an eight-iron approach at the par-four 18th that ran through the green and the tightly-mown fringe, his ball not stopping until it had reached a collar of thicker grass.
The American veteran then decided to putt instead of chipping, even though it was not a difficult chip shot uphill and into the wind.
But he hit a mediocre putt that ended up eight feet beyond the hole, from where he failed to sink the par putt.
Goggin recalled that Watson also putted from off the green at the 17th hole, with much greater precision than he did at the 18th.
”He hit (his second shot) through the green (on 17) and decided to putt it,“ Goggin said in an interview with Reuters. ”It wasn’t perfect grass (but) he putts it down stone dead through two or three yards of fringe.
”So the next hole (18) he’s got a little bit more fringe (to negotiate). If he had hit an average putt on the hole before he probably would have chipped that (third shot at the 18th) and won.
“But because he hit such a good putt the hole before he probably had more confidence in (his putting) than chipping.”
Watson was repeatedly asked that day about the 18th and whether he might have played a different third shot with hindsight. His replied: “I wouldn’t have hit the putt as hard.”
As Watson prepares for his final British Open appearance at St. Andrews next week, Goggin occasionally reminisces about his final round pairing with the American at Turnberry where they battled for the Old Claret Jug.
“It was so weird, just a couple of guys playing golf,” said Goggin, who finished two strokes behind in a tie for fifth at the 2009 Open
”We just had normal conversation (like) we’d have any other time. We talked about the (British) Royals, about Australia. But the pressure builds on everyone, no matter how good you are. He hit an amazing tee shot on 18. He just smashed it.
“I was shocked he then took out his rescue (club) because the only thing you don’t want to do is hit it in that bunker and he took out a club that could have gone right in the middle of that bunker.”
As he sized up his approach into the 18th, Watson needed to make par from the middle of the fairway to clinch a sixth Open title.
“He hit a great second shot but he just flew it too far on the green,” Goggin said. “It was howling downwind. If you’re five yards too far, you’re going to go over the green.”
Watson’s approach did just that as he went on to bogey the hole and then lose the playoff, cruelly costing him a place in golf’s record books.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes/Gene Cherry