James Lawton: Come wind, rain or shine Watson's words and deeds hit a sporting truth in one

Watson has rarely been in better philosophical form when he backed, with brilliant craft, his declaration that he will never play the game ceremonially

In all the exhilaration of the 140th Open, all those moments of uplift provided by the ageing Darren Clarke playing the golf of his life and defying the belief that even a game so wildly psychological can be slotted easily into compartments of occupational efficiency, the prize here must go out to a brief and joyous statement by 61-year-old Tom Watson.

The man from Kansas City, who has eight major titles to his name and two years ago came so unforgettably close to adding a ninth, is at a point in his life when it is has never been more natural to follow the advice of his great predecessor Walter Hagen, who insisted that every man lucky enough to be a professional sportsman must sooner or later stop to smell the flowers.

However old you are, however reserved you might be about the fact that Watson, who once rejected an invitation to the Bill Clinton White House on grounds of political theory, stands roughly to the right of Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun, the result is rarely less than intoxicating.

He has certainly rarely been in better philosophical form than over the last few days when he supported with brilliant craft his declaration that, unlike so many great golfers, he will never play the game ceremonially, never milk the affection of old admirers.

His happiness at holing in one, while at the same time acknowledging that the feat was just the other face of an imposter who might have sent the ball dangerously beyond the pin, was easy and affecting. So too was his quiet encouragement of the latest potential prodigy to pass his way, Welwyn Garden City's young designer-clad Tom Lewis.

Watson also enthralled his last audience at Royal St George's with an emotional account of his pre-tournament visit to the landingbattlegrounds of Normandy.

Yet, for some, Watson's most moving legacy of the wind-blown, rain-soaked tournament in which he finished just one shot behind reigning US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel– and one in front of US title-holder Rory McIlroy – was a short account of his second most memorable moment.

It didn't create a fraction of the uproar that came with his thrilling 15th career ace. It wasn't one of the long, lingering ovations which came each day when he walked down to the 18th green after rounds of superb application. It was a single shot, a "darned near-perfect six-iron". Watson said: "I hit just an absolutely crisp six-iron to 14 today from 135 yards straight into the teeth of the wind to about 30 feet and made the putt. That was one of the good irons I hit today. I hit the ball on the club-face today better than I had all week. Will I be back next year? Yes, if everything is OK with me, then I'll be back. I sure will." Is there really such a thing as a life-affirming six-iron? Watson suggested strongly there was and as he did you could only regret the absence of the 22-year-old who came into this tournament billed as the next most sensational young golfer since Tiger Woods burst upon our consciousness 14 years ago.

When countryman Padraig Harrington claimed in the wake of McIlroy's extraordinary triumph in the US Open that one day he could outstrip Jack Nicklaus's record mark of 18 major titles, the younger man engagingly shook his head and said: "Oh, Paddy, Paddy, Paddy..." When McIlroy spoke on Sunday of his distaste for golf tournaments decided by the weather, there was, of course, an overwhelming urge to say: "Rory, Rory, Rory..."

You could have heard a club-head cover drop when McIlroy responded to the statement that if he was ever going to contend for the Old Claret Jug Watson had claimed five times he would have to deal with the weather that had engulfed the shoreline of the English Channel. McIlroy said: "It's either that or just wait for a year when the weather is nice. No, I mean my game is suited for basically every golf course and most conditions, but I just don't enjoy playing the conditions we have had here. That's the bottom line. I'd rather play when it's 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind."

When McIlroy said that, it was impossible not to go back to a wild day in Dublin, Ohio, in 1979, when Watson was around the peak of his powers, when he treated climatic turbulence not as an imposition but the sweetest of challenges. On that day, when the wind battered the trees and tore at the bushes and the buildings of the course built and ruled by Jack Nicklaus, the proprietor had walked in proudly after shooting an even round. The Golden Bear declared: "Yes, I'm very proud of that round, I do not expect to see any red numbers on the leader board today."

Almost at that precise moment they put some red numbers on the board. They put up Tom Watson's 69 and Nicklaus shook his head and said: "My, my, that Tommy Watson." My, my, Tommy Watson... It was something to murmur again when he waved farewell to the old, unforgiving course for maybe the last time. He said that he would follow closely the careers of young men like Tommy Lewis, Rory and Ryo Ishikawa. "These young people," he said, "are just what I was. I came on the tour at the age of 22. I wasn't 18 or 17 or 19 like Seve, but it's close enough.

"At some point we're all mere babes, with passion and dreams that maybe someday we can be a Jack Nicklaus, and that's what I had."

Few sportsmen ever made more of their gift, ever came through the best and the worst of times, the titles and the yips and the dislocation of private life and the liking for the consolations of the whiskey river celebrated by Willie Nelson, so whole and so generous.

A life-affirming six-iron, did we say? You've got to believe it, partner.

Tarnished Tour still shines as a test of human endurance

There is so much that is worn-out and cynical and discredited in the Tour de France that you wonder how long it will be able to carry on picking itself up, tending its wounds and straightening its spokes.

But then you keep hearing the strangely intense, exultant voice of Mark Cavendish celebrating another stage victory, speaking of his awe for the slavish support he gets from his battling team-mates and his resolve to fight his way to another triumph along the Champs-Élysées.

You remember, too, the sentiment of the great Jacques Anquetil, who said that it surprised him that so many people were aghast to hear that "the boys", from time to time, were found to be in receipt of chemical assistance. It was more surprising, he added, that it was imagined that they might conquer the inhuman courses set for them, almost invariably in the spirit of commercial exploitation, without any temptation to cheat.

What remains true, you have to believe, is a fact that will never be challenged in any dope-testing station. It is that, beyond the right and the wrong, and the claims of the guilty and the innocent, an extraordinary courage and physical resilience will always be required of anyone who tackles the Tour. It is the race that makes strong observers cry, out of both despair and admiration.

Arsenal's decline is a warning for English football

Inevitably, there is another mingling of mockery and diehard respect for Arsène Wenger's latest declaration that his Arsenal retain the means to conquer English football on his terms. Unfortunately, the evidence accumulates that in the most vital of areas, the hearts and minds of such as Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, the argument is essentially lost.

It may be Arsenal's tragedy but it is also a heavy blow for all those who are less than sanguine about the future of the Premier League. Last season was particularly depressing, not least because of the extent of Arsenal's decline as a seriously competitive unit. One thing, at least, is beyond dispute. It is still true that what is good for Arsenal remains one of the best hopes for English football.

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit