Tom Watson bid farewell to the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland on Friday, in what was likely his final appearance in the British Open Championship. Watson, 65, a former Stanford men's golf standout and five-time Open winner, was competing for the 38th time.
Watson was accompanied by his family and friends. His son, Michael, caddied for him.
Beloved by the Scottish fans for appreciation of links golf, Watson won Claret Jugs in 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983. He nearly won for a sixth time in 2009 at Turnberry, when at age 59, he bogeyed the 72nd hole and lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink.
Watson missed the cut this week and narrowly completed his second round Friday night due to a three-and-a-half hour rain delay. Paired with Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker, the trio teed off the par-4 18th hole just after 9:30 p.m. local time in darkness. But hundreds of fans, R&A officials and fellow players braved the cold and wind to cheer for him as he reached the famed Swilcan Bridge after teeing off, posing for photos and tipping his cap to roars of applause.
After hugging Michael, Watson walked up the fairway by himself, waving his cap and flashing his trademark Huck Finn smile. Watson putted last, missing a par putt, but it didn't matter to the crowds. He embraced his son again, waved to his adoring fans and then bowed in appreciation.
As he left the green, he was met by his wife Hilary and children.
"It's over," he said.
Matt Kuchar and Graeme McDowell were just two of the current players to offer hearty handshakes.
Watson was introduced to links golf by Sandy Tatum, who won the NCAA individual title for Stanford in 1942 and is a former USGA president. On a trip to Scotland, they stopped at Royal Dornoch, where the weather was miserable and the rain was blowing sideways.
"What do you think?" Watson asked Tatum.
Needless to say, they played.
"That's when I fell in love with links golf," Watson said. "It was a quite a struggle, struggle, struggle. You occasionally hit the shot that really makes you proud, but it's always a struggle."
A three-time All-American at Stanford (1969-70-71), Watson earned a psychology degree in 1971 and is a member of the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame. He owns 71 professional victories, including 39 Tour events and eight major titles. In addition to his five Open championships, he also won the Masters twice and the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
A Kansas native, Watson was a six-time PGA Tour Player of the Year and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1980. He now competes on the Champions Tour, where he has won 14 times.