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Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Watson encouraged by old rival


SUNNINGDALE, England -- British Open runner-up Tom Watson thanked his "great friend" and former rival Jack Nicklaus for calling him after Watson's agonizing finish Sunday in his attempt to become golf's oldest major champion.

Nicklaus and Watson famously battled out the 1977 British Open at Turnberry, which Watson won in a tournament that became known as the "Duel in the Sun."

"I had a nice conversation with Jack and he said: 'You couldn't have played the 18th hole any better. It just wasn't there,' " Watson said Tuesday at Sunningdale Golf Club outside London, where he is competing this week in the Senior British Open.

Watson, 59, held a one-stroke lead going into the 72nd hole, but after a solid drive, he hit his approach through the green and took three to get down for a bogey-5, forcing a playoff in which he lost to Stewart Cink.

"Jack also said: 'You played the right shot with the putter.' That soothed me a little bit. Great friend," said Watson, who also missed out on equaling Harry Vardon's record of six British Open victories.

Nicklaus, 69, the "Golden Bear" who won a record 18 major titles between 1962 and 1986, was so intrigued by the action that he watched the entire last round from his Florida home.

"Jack told me: 'Watson, that's the first time I ever sat down and watched all 18 holes of any golf tournament, ANY golf tournament,' " a smiling Watson said.

Nicklaus wrote on his official Web site on Saturday that he had watched most of the front nine and all of the back nine during the third round, finding time to play some tennis in between.

Watson won five British Opens, two Masters and one U.S. Open between 1975 and 1983, leaving the PGA championship as the only major out of his grasp.