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On This Date in Sports July 20, 1980: Tom Watson King of the Links

in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

American Tom Watson wins his third Open Championship, beating Lee Trevino by four strokes, by finishing with 13 under par 271 at Muirfield In Gullane, Scotland. Watson catapulted himself to the top of the leaderboard with a seven-under-par 64 on Saturday and maintained the four-stroke lead throughout the final round. Tom Watson wins the Open Championship five times, ranking among the best in the history of the tournament. 

Tom Watson was born on September 4, 1949, in Kansas City, Missouri. Watson was taught the game of golf by his father. After showing great potential in high school, Watson would attend Stanford University. While at Stanford, Tom Watson won the Missouri state amateur title four straight years. He turned professional in 1971. Three years later, he held the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open but faded in the final found; he won his first tournament three weeks later. 

Following his collapse in the 1974 U.S. Open, Tom Watson sought the advice of Byron Nelson, a Hall of Fame golfer who won five career majors. The advice of Nelson helped change Watson’s career. In 1975 he beat Jack Nicklaus on the final hole to win his first Open Championship at Carnoustie. Tom Watson won a second Open Championship in 1977, beating Nicklaus again by one stroke at Turnberry. Tom Watson also won the Masters in 1977, becoming one of the top golfers in the world. 

Heading into Muirfield in 1980, all eyes were on Jack Nicklaus, who had won the Masters, and U.S. Open and was attempting to make a quest at the grand slam. The 1980 British Open was the first to begin on Thursday and end on Sunday. Tom Watson got off to a good start, holding a share of the lead with Lee Trevino after 18 holes after a three-under-par 68. Trevino turned it up on Friday, shooting a 67, while Watson scuffed with a 70 and was down three strokes heading into the weekend. 

In the third round, Tom Watson made his surge on Saturday’s moving day. Watson shot a 64, jumping out to a four-stroke lead as Trevino shot a par-71. Sitting at -11, Watson had a four-shot lead over Lee Trevino and Ken Brown of Scotland. Lee Trevino made an early push on Sunday, but once Tom Watson hit a string of birdies, the Claret Jug was once again assured to be in his possession. Watson and Trevino each shot a nice 69 on Sunday, with Watson carding a -13 for the tournament at 271. 

Lee Trevino finished second at seven-under, while Ben Crenshaw finished third with a -7. Jack Nicklaus was never a factor in the Open Championship in 1980, finishing at -4, in a tie with Carl Mason. Ken Brown, who was tied for second after three rounds, struggled on Sunday, posting a 76 to finish tied for sixth at -2.

Tom Watson would win the Open Championship again in 1982 and 1983, also winning the U.S. Open in 1982. Watson always excelled on links courses and made one unreal run at a record-tying sixth Open Championship in 2009 at Turnberry, losing a playoff to Stewart Cink. Watson was just two months away from his 60th birthday. Tom Watson has won five Open Championship, tied with James Braid of Scotland, England’s John Henry Taylor, and Peter Thomas of Australia. Only Harry Vardon of England won more Open titles with six.