Originally created 07/20/98

Watts needed 2 miracle shots, only got 1

SOUTHPORT, England -- Brian Watts made the shot of his life to get into a British Open playoff. Four holes later, he needed something even better.

When his second sand shot on the 18th hole in less than an hour didn't go in Sunday, his improbable Open hopes were gone with it.

Watts had already pulled off one amazing shot from nearly the same spot, but a second one just wasn't in the bag.

Mark O'Meara was the Open champion in a playoff, and Watts had to settle for the $329,000 second-place prize money and, perhaps, a one-way ticket from Japan to the PGA Tour.

"I knew I had to try to hole the bunker shot to have any chance," Watts said.

On a day when Watts played steady but unspectacular golf on the wet Royal Birkdale links, his Open chances ended up resting on two nearly impossible shots out of sand traps fronting the left side of the 18th green.

Watts thrilled the huge crowd with the first shot, hitting from an awkward stance to within about 6 inches of the hole. He made par to force the playoff.

But he couldn't make an even harder shot -- a birdie from the sand that could have extended the four-hole playoff into sudden death.

When the shot didn't drop, and rolled 25 feet past, O'Meara had his second major championship of the year. (He won the Masters in April).

"I never gave up," said Watts, an Oklahoman who plays on the Japanese tour. "Obviously, I'm not happy I lost, but I'm proud of myself."

O'Meara was sitting on a towel with his family on the wet grass surrounding the 18th green as Watts came up the fairway for the first time Sunday.

O'Meara had just finished at even par, and Watts had just made a 12-footer on the 17th hole to draw even.

But Watts was in the left rough after pulling a 3-wood off the tee. His chances of making a par that would force a playoff were slim.

Watts looked up at the scoreboard to see O'Meara had made par. He took out a 6-iron and caught more ball than grass, but he pulled it and the ball hopped a few times before rolling gently into the first trap to the left of the green.

The fun was just beginning.

With the ball in a down-slope just inside the front edge of the trap, Watts could not stand with both feet inside it. He would have to dig in with his left foot in the bunker and plant his right foot on the slippery grass surrounding it, then hit a shot high enough to clear the lip but low enough to carry to the pin.

"I just tried to create something in my mind, visualize a great shot," Watts said.

In his mind, he saw it going in. If it had, he would be the Open champion.

Watts went into the bunker once, then came back out to look again at the pin. He climbed back in, took two half swings and waggled the club once. Then he hit the shot of his life.

The ball shot out of the sand, hit softly on a mound on the fringe and began rolling to the right toward the hole. It didn't go quite right enough, though, sliding past the hole on the left and finishing within tap-in distance.

From his greenside perch, O'Meara applauded, then got ready for the playoff.

"The bunker shot he played on the 72nd hole was as good as I've ever seen with all the pressure on," O'Meara said.

As good as it was, Watts would need one more. Only this time, it was not to be.

A stroke down in the four-hole playoff, he came to 18 for the second time in less than an hour. This time he didn't help his chances by pulling a 4-iron into a bunker just in back of the one he played from before.

With O'Meara on the fringe 18 feet away in two, Watts needed to sink his bunker shot to have any chance.

When it flew past the hole and rolled down the fringe, the Open was over.


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