ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tom Watson put one hand on the Swilcan Bridge, bent over, and kissed the ancient stones.
This was no tearful goodbye. Rather, a fond farewell.
Watson played his last round in a British Open at St. Andrews yesterday, assured of missing the cut after shooting a 3-over-par 75.
“St. Andrews, when I first played here, I didn’t like it,’’ he said. “But I learned to like it. And, eventually, to love it.’’
Several hundred fans stuck around in the fading light for one last glimpse of Watson on the Old Course, and he didn’t disappoint. With playing competitors Padraig Harrington and Ryo Ishikawa well ahead so as not to steal his moment, Watson kissed the bridge and then took a last, nostalgic walk over it.
As applause and shouts of “We love you, Tom!’’ rang out, Watson stood on top of the bridge, took off his cap, and waved it at the crowd. He gave a thumbs-up and then stood still, soaking it all in — just as his old friends and rivals Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus had done before him.
“It just seemed the right thing to do,’’ Watson said. “I thought of Arnold on the bridge and I thought of Jack on the bridge. Their last Opens were both right here at St. Andrews. My last Open is not, the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.’’
Caddie Neil Oxman put his arm around Watson when he caught up to him, and the two resumed their last stroll up the 18th fairway.
“The main thing is the respect I have for the way the game is played here. And the respect that the people have for their game,’’ Watson said. “The Scots invented golf, and they love the game with a passion unlike any other people. I enjoy that.’’
The Englishman was thrilled with his round, even with that 7 he made on the par-4 17th hole that knocked him at least one spot down the leaderboard. His 3-under 69 left him at 6 under for the tournament, in a tie for third, six strokes behind leader Louis Oosthuizen.
“To be honest, I’m not even that frustrated with what happened on 17,’’ Casey said. “If you had told me I’d be in the clubhouse on 6 under, I would have bitten your arm off, especially with the conditions we were warming up in this morning in the wind and the pouring rain. Yeah, I’m very happy with that.’’
Casey’s been fighting a scratchy throat, but the heavy rains and cool temperatures didn’t appear to bother him as he opened with three straight birdies and made the turn at 5 under for the day. He couldn’t get any lower on the back nine, but he wasn’t giving any strokes back, either.
Until the 17th, that is.
Casey took out whatever anger he might have had on the 18th tee, driving almost to the steps of the clubhouse that sits behind the 357-yard hole. With about 100 feet to the hole, he putted to within 5 feet and knocked that in for birdie.
“I read the Tom Watson quote about, ‘Whatever she gave away today, she’ll take back tomorrow.’ I believe that with links golf,’’ Casey said. “It’s about hanging around. I’d be very impressed if Louis and Rory [McIlroy] keep popping in scores like that. If they do, good luck to them.’’
The Englishman is at 6 under for the tournament, leaving him tied for third when the second round was halted. Westwood shot a 1-under 71 on a day when blustery winds made any score below par look like a 62.
“I’m in a good position for the weekend, I think,’’ he said. “[But] I’m behind where I ought to be. I should really be 10 under, at worst. But I didn’t play last week. I didn’t really hit any balls, either.’’
Westwood was at the French Open two weeks ago when his right calf swelled so badly doctors feared the 37-year-old might have a blood clot. Further tests showed he had instead ruptured the plantaris muscle, which runs down the calf. He played the tournament — tying for 18th — but skipped last week’s Scottish Open at Loch Lomond to give the leg a chance to heal.
He took almost all of last week off, not hitting balls until Friday, and played just one full practice round before the Open began.