Tom Watson is playing in the Open this week, so you will see much of him over the first 36 holes and more if he makes the cut no matter what he shoots.
Much talk will be about his stature as the supposed best ever at links golf. The experts base their conclusion on his five wins and his ability to play in bad weather. While weight should go to both points, winning is not everything, and not all rounds are played in bad weather. Furthermore, since all Opens have been played on links courses, it is fair to compare a player’s complete body of work in the Open with another’s to arrive at the best links player.
The obvious contender for best ever at links golf is Jack Nicklaus. He won in gale force winds and hay fields, and he contended in every conceivable condition and on every course on the regular rota in his prime (he did not play Royal St. Georges until he was 41).
As for the numbers, Watson does own a 5-3 edge in wins thanks to his win over Nicklaus at the Duel in the Sun in 1977. Were it not for a 60 foot putt Watson holed late in the final round, they would be tied at 4-4.
Once we go past wins, Nicklaus dominates the head-to-head matchup. He leads Watson in seconds 7 to 2, in thirds 3 to 0, and in fourths 2-1. That’s a commanding 15-7 lead in top fours. In top 10s, Nicklaus leads 18-10. Up through age 45 Nicklaus missed only one cut (that coming at age 45) while Watson missed four. Finally, Nicklaus strung together 15 consecutive top sixes (!!!) while Watson’s best string was three straight.
So, you can buy into the “experts” rhetoric if you please, but the facts show that Nicklaus’ overall record in the Open was far superior to Watson’s, and that makes him the Best Ever at links golf.
For a story on Stricker’s chances, read…