PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Just as Jack Nicklaus did 10 years earlier, Tom Watson fought through tears as he prepared to hit his third shot from the greenside bunker on No. 18 Sunday, perhaps the final bunker shot he’d hit in U.S. Open competition at Pebble Beach.
“I just closed my eyes and hoped,” Watson said moments after his closing-round 5-over-par 76 in his fifth U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. “There were a lot of emotions going on there on 18. Even with my son on the bag and all the great, great memories I’ve had here, I still managed to hit a good bunker shot.”
In what would have been a fitting end to his Pebble Beach career, the 60-year-old Watson nearly holed out from off the green, stopping his bunker shot just two feet from the hole. Then his emotions got in his way as he slid his birdie attempt by the right edge of the hole.
“I drew a blank on the putt and pushed it out there,” said Watson, the only player to appear in all five U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach (1972, ’82, ’92, 2000, and ’10). “Fortunately, I made the next putt.”
After putting out, Watson threw his ball into the ocean, just as he did in 1982 when he won his only U.S. Open title.
“You give the ocean its due because you never know when it’s going to take it from you,” Watson said. “I’ve hit it into that ocean off the tee a few times, and throwing the ball in the ocean is kind of a thank you for not taking it one more time.”
Earlier this week, Watson said that — short of a victory — this year’s U.S. Open would be his last. He was leaning toward that proclamation after yesterday’s round, although he did not completely rule out an appearance in the 2019 U.S. Open, the next time the championship will be held here. Watson would be 69.
“It may very well be my last time playing Pebble Beach in a championship of this caliber,” Watson said. “Probably so.”
Watson was 1 under after eight holes on Sunday and flirting with the top 10, which would have meant an automatic invite to next year’s U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Then Watson caught the bogey bug that infected most of Sunday’s final groups. The trouble started with his bogeys on holes 9 and 10, the middle of a killer foursome of par 4s.
“My dad always said that Pebble Beach has the three best par 4s in a row in the world in 8, 9 and 10,” said Watson. “They call them ‘the Cliffs of Doom‘ now. I think that’s a little bit over the top, but they’re just three beautiful par 4s. I didn’t play them too well today.”
Next up for Watson is the British Open, which begins July 15 at St. Andrews. None of Watson’s previous five British Open titles (1975, ’77, ’80, ’82 and ’83) have come at St. Andrews, but after last year’s stunning runner-up finish at Turnberry, no one is counting Watson out this year, least of all him.
“I need to start playing a little bit better than I am right now,” said Watson. “I’m just a little bit off, and I just didn’t have good control this entire week even though I shot a couple good middle rounds. It was done somewhat with smoke and mirrors and a lot of experience playing Pebble Beach.”