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From the Catbird Seat: The 72nd Hole

For 71 holes, the sports world watched in awe.

On the 72nd hole, the awe turned into something quite different. After the 72nd hole, it changed again.

I'm sure Stewart Cink is a very nice man. Yet I can't imagine there were too many people other than his family and friends who were pulling for him to win the British Open last weekend.

Tom Watson, all 59-plus years of him, turned back the clock last weekend and in the process, made fans of just about everyone who watched the tournament.

He was the oldest man ever to lead at any point in a major tournament, and held the tournament in the palm of his hand - or, if you like, on the blade of his putter - on the 72nd hole at Turnberry. Unfortunately, the par putt that would have capped one of the most remarkable sporting achievements of all time didn't fall.

Cink then proceeded to win a playoff, as age finally caught up with Watson. He came oh-so-close to winning, and transfixed the sporting public for a wonderful weekend.

Newspapers reported after the match that on Sunday morning, Watson received the only text message Jack Nicklaus has ever sent in his life, urging Watson to "make us cry." In the end, Nicklaus was prescient. It seemed after the event that one of the very few supporters not upset about the outcome was Watson himself.

Emotional investment in sports is nothing new. Just ask any Viking fan how it feels to be repeatedly disappointed. Yet with Watson, there was a whole different element to what we saw this weekend.

The tournament was supposed to be Tiger Woods' to lose, especially with Phil Mickelson skipping the tournament to be with his wife, diagnosed with breast cancer.

And Woods had lost it by Friday, missing the cut after a difficult four-over par second round that saw him miss out on the weekend by one stroke.

But by then, Watson was in the ascendancy, and I think it's the best thing that could have happened to golf. Everyone respects Woods' ability, but aside from the notion that it's nice to see someone else win once in awhile, Watson's excellence was just plain special.

It had been 23 years since Watson's last British Open win, the fifth of a remarkable career. Yet, there he was, outdueling all the younger men while walking the course on an artificial hip. For a time, Watson's victory seemed almost like destiny.

Yet, it never happened. From a personal perspective, that was surprisingly hard to take. The older I get myself, the more I enjoy seeing people like Tom Watson, racer Mark Martin, pitcher Randy Johnson and hockey player Chris Chelios succeed. It's great to see old age and treachery overcome youth once in awhile.

But even more important, it's great to see sport win. And there is no doubt whatsoever that the game of golf, and sports in general, was the big winner at Turnberry.

Watson handled his loss in the same manner he handled his success - with customary style and grace. He was a gentleman and he was a sportsman in a day and age when we don't see nearly enough of either gracing our fields of play.

That's not to say all athletes are jerks. That is obviously not the case. But it's good to see the good in sports celebrated, and Watson's epic weekend certainly did that.

If you saw it, I hope you were as impressed by it as I was. We may never see its like again. That would be a pity.