Rainbows for Nick Faldo and twilight for Tom Watson at St Andrews

Old town as it is, of course St Andrews has its ghosts.

They say the phantom carriage of Archbishop Sharp still runs on the road to Strathkinness. Cardinal Beaton haunts the upper floors of the castle. And when the moon is up, Robert de Montrose appears at the top of the St Rule’s Tower. Anyone looking with the right kind of eyes might have seen one or two more stalking the Old Course on Friday, when the second round of the Open doubled up as a valedictory parade for two of the tournament’s great champions, Tom Watson and Nick Faldo. It made for the most extraordinary day.

More than likely they saw some themselves. For each this last round will have been overlaid by memories of all those that preceded it, of old opponents, victories and defeats. As Faldo said before the tournament: “My fondest memories on my journey with this great sport are woven with pictures and emotions in this setting.” After his opening tee shot, his playing partners, Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler, let him walk ahead, alone past the grandstand alongside the fairway. A wave of the hand, then Faldo strode on, intent on the serious business of trying to get around in something close to a decent score.

The first day had been a hard one. Faldo shot 83, 11 over par, and was stone last in the field. It was the worst round he had ever played at the Open. He struggled with a cut on his hand, caused by, of all things, the antler on a stuffed deer. “I’m not a golfer any more,” he said afterwards. But he is still a proud man. When he woke on Friday morning he found the wound had opened again. The rain delay gave him time to get to the hospital to have it glued together. At that point he was thinking about withdrawing. It was his son and caddie, Matthew, who talked him into playing. “When your kids say you’re going, you’re going, aren’t you?” He arrived at the course only 40 minutes before his tee time.

At the 9th, glory be, Faldo got a birdie, his first of the tournament. A second followed at the 10th and all of a sudden he was moving up the leaderboard – only into 155th place but still. There was a bogey at the next but after that he was back to steady par thanks to some fine approach play and some solid putting. By the time Faldo reached the 16th the sun was out, the weather set fair for his grand finish. He even got a little help from the wind, when a gust blew his putt at the 16th into the hole, even as he was turning away from it. One sensed then that something special was coming.

What followed will go down in Open lore. At the Road Hole Faldo’s first ended up in the rough. From there he landed his second just short of the slope at the very front of the green. And with his third, of course, he made a brilliant putt for a birdie. St Andrews erupted in celebration. At that moment distant rain meant there was a rainbow over the clubhouse at the other end of the 18th. It framed Faldo as he stood there, arms aloft. “I looked at the gods, the St Andrews golfing gods at 17. I thought: ‘Thank you very much for that,’” he said. “That was one of the great moments of my career, making a three there.”

After his tee his shot at the 18th Faldo stopped and pulled out the famous sweater he wore when he won the Open at Muirfield back in 1987 – a hideous thing, mustard coloured with black and grey diamonds. “Real cashmere,” Faldo said. He took a bow, then strolled up on to the little Swilcan Bridge before the final fairway. All around, thousands rose to their feet for one last hurrah. Faldo spent a few minutes posing for photos with his son, then invited Fowler and Rose up too – even though they likely had other things on their minds, given that Rose was five under and towards the top of the leaderboard and Fowler one under and worrying about the cut.

With a final par Faldo finished his round in 71. Last month he said that, while this would be his last appearance at St Andrews, he would play in the Open again at Troon in 2016. Now he is not so sure. “I think that might be it. If I’ve just shot 71 and done all that today, that might be my last walk.” It would, as he said himself, be hard to top.

By then Watson was well into his round. He received ovations at each and every grandstand, all acknowledged with a smile and a tip of his hat. He seemed calm but a lot of emotion bubbled underneath. He went out in 38. As the sun fell, he started to choke up. He dropped shots at six of the last seven holes. But then it was not really about the score. “They’ve been waiting all day for this, Tom,” said his playing partner Brandt Snedeker as they approached 17. “Yup,” agreed Ernie Els. “And we’re late for the wedding.” Watson, lost in his own thoughts, did not seem to hear them.

He finished just before 10 o’clock, when it was so dark he had to ask his caddie, and son, to leave the flag in while he was putting. He took two to get it down. The gallery gave him three cheers; he gave them a bow – quintessential endings, then, for a pair of equally inimitable champions.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Andy Bull at St Andrews, for The Guardian on Friday 17th July 2015 21.29 Europe/London

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