SANDWICH, England — Tom Watson refuses to be a ceremonial player, especially when it comes to the British Open. He showed what he was talking about Friday when he quickly turned things around with a hole-in-one on the sixth hole.
Watson drilled a 4-iron from about 160 yards into the wind, a shot that looked good from the time of that crisp click off his club. He never saw the ball bang against the pin and disappear, and he paused slightly even after hearing a sudden burst of cheering from fans perched atop the tall dunes surrounding the green.
He raised his arms, and eventually turned and took a bow for a packed grandstand behind him.
“I didn’t see it,” Watson said. “You can’t see it go in. I just saw it on the replay in there. It was a slam dunk. If it missed the flag it would’ve been 30 feet by. But it was lucky. They’re all lucky when they go in. But that’s what I was aiming at.”
It’s not all luck when it comes to Watson and the British Open he has won five times.
The oldest player in the field at 61, he wound up with an even-par 70 and was at 2-over 142, only six shots behind going into the final two rounds at Royal St. George’s. Not many expect him to contend, even though memories are fresh from when he came within one putt of winning at Turnberry two years ago. Perhaps that’s because Watson has struggled with his putting over the first two days .
Watson isn’t about to give up.
“If my putting was a little bit better, I’d give myself at least an outside chance, let’s put it that way,” he said.
The ace was the 15th of his career, many of them in competition. And it stirred some recollections of other times he made a hole-in-one.
His favorite came at Oakmont in 1969 at the U.S. Amateur. Watson already was 4 over through seven holes when he came to the monstrous par-3 eighth hole. He hit 3-iron into the cup for a hole-in-one, then made birdie on the ninth to get back into the game.
“That’s a really tough golf course, and that kind of got me back into the tournament,” he said. “And I ended up qualifying for the Masters by finishing fifth. So that kind of propelled me onto that.”
And then there was the first one, which did not come with the kind of applause he heard Friday.
In fact, no one clapped at all.
He was about 11 of 12, playing alone at Kansas City Country Club, when he made an ace on the second hole. Then came the desperate search for a witness. Seems there was a promotion in Golf Digest that if someone made a hole-in-one with a Dunlop ball, it would be used to make a plaque. All that was required was the ball, scorecard and a witness.
“My elation went from here,” Watson said, holding his hand high, “to, ‘Oh, man.”’
Watson said John Cosnotti, the assistant pro, walked over to the window and looked some 400 yards toward the second hole and said, “You know, Tom, I saw that go in.”
Watson still has the plaque.