Bionic Tom Watson adds 1980 to his '75 and '77 British Open victories

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

After winning the 109th British Open Tom Watson is considered the nearest thing yet to a "bionic golfer." Having also won the tournament in 1975 and 1977, he may find it's just a question of time before he equals the five victories of the great Australian, Peter Thomson. Many are even speculating about the day when Watson puts himself on a par with the Open's greatest of them all, six-time winner Harry Vardon.

Among those engaged in such conjecture are Thomson himself and Britain's "grand master," Henry Cotton, the only Briton to win the championship more than once since the days of Vardon.

On Watson's performance at Muirfield, where he took the title by four shots from Lee Trevino and by six from Ben Crenshaw, Cotton rates him "almost the greatest" he has ever seen.

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The Watson swing looks so simple, so efficient, so unstrained that it is a real surprise when anything goes wrong. He proved again that it is not in fact method that matters most: It's geometry, precision, repeatability.

But who could still hold that there is any one correct method, having watched a tournament with star performances from aim-wide Trevino, hands-down Hubie Green, putter-up Isao Aoki, flying-elbow Jack Nicklaus, and crouching Ken Brown?

Crenshaw's swing is even sweeter, perhaps, and Ben is also a super putter. But neither swing nor putt achieves quite the same perfect contact as Watson's. If there's one outstanding golfing lesson here for weekend players that's it. Mark well and learn: Geometry's the name of the game.

Trevino was, as always, often inspired on Muirfield's subtle greens. But he lost command during the third round. At the halfway mark his bubbling confidence for some reason went quite flat. He grew silent. And it was not until the second half of the final round that his usual good humor returned.

Watson's almost flawless 64 in the third round seemed to stun Trevino. He had said he could win with 10 under par (274). He actually finished 9 under, yet never really threatened Watson.

Nicklaus came back up the field to finish again in the first six. his record in this open is unparalleled in its consistency and his record in "majors" unlikely to be equaled for a very long time, if at all.

So it was no weak field that Watson conquered.

Japan's Aoki, second to Jack in the US Open, equaled the course and championship record with a 63, as did the unknown Horacio Carbonetti of the Argentine.

Brown clung on the coattails of Watson until the second nine holes of the final round but then fell away, allowing another young Briton, Carl Mason, to edge him out of fourth place.

All of which puts Watson's victory in its true and superlative perspective. There was no one to touch him.

The unassuming Watson is extremely popular over here. and as this new "honorary Briton" stepped up toward who knows what new heights of greatness, another "honorary Briton" stepped down -- Arnold Palmer. the British love for him for having turned their Open back again into the top international event it was always meant to be and for sustaining it through the 1960s, first almost alone and then along with Nicklaus.

Palmer said it was probably his last British Open. So they sang him, "Will ye no come back again?"

At Troon in 1962 only one man -- Australia's Kel Nagle -- managed to finish within 13 strokes of Palmer. He revitalized golf here as he did in his own country, and will always be an honored guest.

The hope is that Palmer will, after all, feel able to return to the Open at Sandwich, England, next year. He won the British PGA there in 1975, his last big victory. Maybe that will help bring him back, that memory.

But should he not return, well, American golf will still be represented by several well-loved players. And Watson, although a very different type of player, will help them keep the flame of the oldest open alight for the world to see and marvel at.

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