• Open Championship

Legend Watson gets St Andrews farewell

Bob Harig | ESPN.com
July 1, 2014
Tom Watson, playing St Andrews for what he thought was the final time, kisses the Swilcan Bridge © Getty Images

Five-time champion Tom Watson will get his Open Championship exemption extended by one year so he can conclude his career at St Andrews with a 40th-anniversary appearance in the tournament.

Watson, 64, was scheduled to play his last Open later this month at Royal Liverpool, but the R&A announced the added year on Tuesday during a news conference at the Greenbrier Classic, where up to four players could qualify for the tournament based on a top-12 finish this week.

"I appreciate the R&A more than you know," said Watson, who is playing in the Greenbrier tournament. "It's very special to be able to finish out my career - unless I finish in the top 10. If not, that's the place I want to finish my career, in the Open Championship, 40 years from the first time I played."

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Watson's first victory in the tournament came in his first appearance in 1975 at Carnoustie. He also defeated Jack Nicklaus in the famous "Duel in the Sun" at Turnberry in 1977 and won at Muirfield in 1980, at Royal Troon in 1982 and at Royal Birkdale in 1983.

But Watson has never won at St Andrews. Among his biggest disappointments was a defeat to Seve Ballesteros there in 1984.

Open Champions are exempt until age 60, but Watson was given five more years when he finished runner-up to Stewart Cink in 2009 at Turnberry. In what would have been one of golf's greatest stories, Watson, then 59, was on the verge of victory, needing only a par at the last hole to win. But his approach bounded over the green, and he was unable to get up and down for par. He then lost to Cink in an aggregate four-hole play-off.

Afterward, the R&A enacted a new exemption in which any past champion who finishes in the top 10 gets five more years even if it goes past his 60th birthday.

Like all greats of the game, Watson will get to take a last bow from St Andrews' famous Swilcan Bridge, which links the 18th tee to the fairway. He had done that as well in 2010, when he missed the cut.

"Thinking that was going to be my last time walking across the Swilcan Bridge was a sad time," Watson said. "If everything works out, it allows me to go across that bridge again. I'll drag myself there."

Watson, who is the 2014 US Ryder Cup captain, reiterated his desire to see Tiger Woods play for the team.

"I'm delighted to see Tiger back," Watson said of Woods, who missed the cut last week at the Quicken Loans National. "I hope he's healthy and not in pain. As I've said, I want him on the Ryder Cup team if he's healthy and playing well."

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for ESPN.com

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