Tom Watson said farewell to The Open with a last walk up the 18th fairway in the gloom at the Old Course in St Andrews on Friday (Saturday AEST).
The lights in the club house were on and the grandstand was virtually empty as Watson finished his last Open Championship round shortly before 10pm local time.
His two-round score of 12 over – the bottom of the leaderboard – hardly mattered as the five-time winner of the Claret Jug was given a resounding send-off by hundreds of spectators who packed the road along the fairway and gathered around the green, many having moved with the former champion from the 17th hole.
After playing the last hole with a bogey, Watson doffed his cap and bowed in the direction of the club house.
Watson had crossed the Swilcan Bridge to the fairway one last time, stopping to pose for photographs alongside playing partners Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker, and with his son, Michael, who was caddying and appeared to be close to tears.
“Walking up the 18th hole, actually on the tee, I told my son, I said, ‘Michael, there should be no tears, this should be all joy.
“There have been lots of wonderful memories we’ve had, we’ve shared here. You and I have shared some and had so many others that, let’s go up and go out and enjoy the walk up the last hole’.”
Watson, 65, won five Open Championships, in 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983, and came close to a remarkable sixth in 2009 at age 59 when he was beaten by Stewart Cink in a play-off at Turnberry.
“If I could entertain the fans with great golf shots, that’s what I was out there to do,” he said.
“I think I hit a few of them in my career here, and I think maybe some of these people here had seen a few of them a long time ago, actually maybe 2009.”
With the light fading, it was not clear whether Watson would be able to finish the round in time but both Els and Snedeker said they wanted to continue.
Watson said: “On the tee, Brandt and Ernie and I, we had a discussion, but I told them, I said, gentlemen, you’re both in the tournament right here. Whatever you want to do, you do. I’m not in the tournament. You guys, you’re in the tournament, do what they want to do.”
The Open is now history for the eight-time major winner, but there is at least one more major left – he plans to play the Masters one final time next year.