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A Worthy Champion



The 2015 Open Championship began with a farewell.

Living legend, 65 year old Tom Watson, was playing in his final Open Championship at the home of Golf, St. Andrews.

A rain delay earlier in the day meant that Watson and his playing partners, Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker, would finish their second round as the coals of night enveloped the Old Course.

As Scotland’s favorite adopted son stood on the Swilican Bridge to say thank you and good-bye, a last lingering sliver of light spread behind him. The fact that Watson shot 80 meant nothing.
All that mattered was that the 5-time Open Champion would know how much he is adored by the game’s original sons and daughters. That he represented so much of what they value and that he played the game the way it should be played. And for 40 years, Watson has done exactly that. He is a man of honor, dignity, self-effacing humor and was both a winner and loser, always with grace.

“It’s been one hell of a run,” he said.

Tempestuous rain delayed the start of play in Friday’s second round for 3 hours as Watson’s group was the last to finish leaving a third of the field still on the course. Those players would finish their second rounds on Saturday morning. When Saturday dawned however, gale force winds made play impossible. After those groups had played one or two holes, play was halted once more. Officials decided that players would complete their second round when play resumed and that the 3rd and 4th rounds would be extended to Sunday and Monday.

After backing up his brilliant opening round of 7-under par, 65, with a solid 3-under, 69, Dustin Johnson led at the halfway point with a 2-day total of 10-under. One stroke behind him was unheralded Englishman, Danny Willett, with a further stroke back to 1999 Open Champion, Paul Lawrie.

Among the pack at 7-under par were, Louis Oosthuizen, Zach Johnson, Jason Day and Adam Scott. Jordan Spieth, who was looking to become only the second professional in history to win the first three legs of the Grand Slam (Ben Hogan did so in 1953), was at 5-under par after a second round 72 that saw him 3-putt 5 times.

The weather for Sunday’s third round was in complete contrast to the first three days and St. Andrews was vulnerable to low scores which would come in droves. 2-time Open Champion, Padraig Harrington, shot a 7-under par, 65, to vault into 5th at the end of the day’s play at 10-under par. He would lead a group of 9 players at 9-under that included Zach Johnson, Scott, Willett, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen and Justin Rose.

The best round of the day was fashioned by Marc Leishman who shot an 8-under par, 64, to join the group at 9-under. The 31-year old Australian barely made the even par cut and yet had vaulted into contention. A round like that however would be hard to replicate in Monday’s final round.

The enigma that is Dustin Johnson stumbled to a disastrous 3-over par, 75 that dropped him to 18th place and seemingly out of the race.

Spieth stormed back into contention with a superb 6-under par, 66, for a 3-day total of 11 under par leaving only 3 players ahead of him.

Tied at 12-under, were Day and Oosthuizen who both carded 5-under, 67’s and 22 year old amateur, Paul Dunne who fashioned a brilliant 66. Dunne, a recent graduate of the University of Alabama Birmingham, became the first amateur to lead after the third round of The Open since Bobby Jones did so in 1927. Cinderella was being fitted for a new slipper.

A dreary grey sky, winds and rain, greeted the players for Monday’s closing round.

The slipper came off very quickly for Dunne who could never recover from a bogey, bogey start to his last round but his week was still remarkable and something that he should take great pride in.
The two players coming out of the 9-under pack were Zach Johnson and Leishman. Both played brilliantly to record 6-under par 66’s and finish regulation play at 15-under par to lead in the clubhouse while Day, Spieth and Oosthuizen, all at 14-under par, still had holes to play.

Spieth made a spectacular birdie-3 at the 16th hole to join the leaders at 15-under but gave that shot away on the perilous Road Hole, #17. Now one behind, Spieth and Day would have to birdie the last to tie the leaders.

And neither player was able to leaving Oosthuizen as the only remaining player on the course that could join the play-off.

Spieth’s week was a stunning attempt at history and while he fell one short of history in his quest to join Hogan, he was superb nonetheless. Day continued his phenomenal play in Majors, registering his 9th Top Ten finish in the last 18 he has contested. Surely the 26 year old Queenslander will be joining the pantheon of Australians who have won Majors before long.

Oosthuizen played a flawless sand wedge to 4 feet on the 18th and then calmly rolled in his birdie to make the play-off a 3-man affair. The Open play-off format is a 4-hole aggregate score test comprised of playing the 1st, 2th, 17th and 18th holes.

Johnson and Oosthuizen both birdied the first hole while Leishman bogeyed immediately leaving the lanky Australian with a huge 2 shot deficit. Johnson birdied the second hole and took a 1 shot lead over Oosthuizen who made a par.

All three players made bogey-5’s on the third play-off hole. Johnson made a par-4 on the fourth hole and when Oosthuizen birdie putt just slipped by the left side of the cup, the 39 year old from Iowa became the Champion Golfer of the Year.

Zach may not have been the most heralded Johnson coming into the week but he is a most worthy champion. Johnson labored for years on the mini Tours before graduating to the PGA Tour in 2004 with an unorthodox swing that has become one of the most consistent in the game.

The Open is his 12th win on the PGA Tour and his second Major, having won the 2007 Masters.

Johnson plays the game with many of the characteristics that marked Watson and it is fitting that he claim the Claret Jug, in the week that gentleman Tom, said good-bye.