One more go-round: Watson stays in range of Masters cut
AUGUSTA, Georgia—Tom Watson walked up to his tee shot on the 18th fairway, sized up his approach, reached into his bag and pulled the cover off his 3-wood.
That, golf fans, is why Watson is saying goodbye to the Masters after this week.
“I had 205 yards to the front of the green, and they’re 60 yards ahead of me on the hill,” Watson said of the others in his threesome, Lee Westwood and Charley Hoffman. “And … Westwood’s caddie said there are people who hit it 40 yards past Lee on that hill. It’s a game of length. I used to play it when I was a kid.”
The 66-year-old, two-time winner of the green jacket made bogey on No. 18 to close out a windblown opening-round 2-over 74 on Thursday. He finished the day tied for 43rd and still well within range of making the top 50 after Friday. If he does, he’ll hit the goal he set this week: to become the oldest player to make the cut at Augusta National.
“Seventy-four is not bad for old folks,” Watson said.
It would’ve been 73 had his ball not moved on the seventh green, a split second after he addressed the near-gimme 2-footer with his putter. Watson said he caused the ball to move. That’s a one-shot penalty.
About an hour earlier, he hit out of a fairway bunker on No. 3 and snaked in a curving 45-footer for his first and only birdie of the round. Teeing off among the early wave of players, that put “T. Watson” on the leaderboard for a bit.
A blast from the past.
But Watson knows Augusta National is neither the Augusta National of his youth — nor is it Turnberry, where he shocked golf seven years ago and almost won the British Open at 59.
Turnberry is the shortish, links-style course where, for 71 holes, Watson made anything seem possible in 2009 before making bogey on the 72nd and falling to Stewart Cink in a heartbreaking playoff.
Augusta, which has been Tiger-proofed, supersized and otherwise beefed up over the last two decades, throws a wet towel on dreams like that.
“I don’t have the tools,” said Watson, who last year followed an opening-round 71 with an 81 that sent him home for the weekend. “I don’t have the length to play this golf course.”
With the wind behind him on No. 14, he hit what he called a good drive down the middle of the fairway. But he still needed a 5-iron to get to the green—a shot that could not be gently arced to stop on a dime when it landed.
He flew the green, and that led to a bogey that put him over par.
Watson said that, years ago, “I was one of the longest ones out here. I had my advantage. That’s one reason I played so well here at Augusta.”
He won green jackets in 1977 and 1981 and, almost as remarkably, kept himself in the mix, year-in, year out. He finished in the top 15 for 15 straight years starting with that first green jacket.
That helped build a following of loyal fans, who may not be as fervent as they are in Britain, where he’s an adopted son thanks to his five Open titles, but who still comes out to see him in Augusta.
“Over the last 20 years here, I’ve seen the same people who follow Tom every single year,” said his wife, Hilary. “Incredible how loyal they are.”
On every hole, especially as the back nine progressed, warm, lasting waves of applause washed over him. He doffed his cap more than once.
On Friday, that scene will play out again. Watson will either be making his last competitive trip around this grand golf course—or will make a bit of history by booking two tee times for the weekend.
But winning? That’s out of the question. Which is the other reason Watson knows it’s time to put the clubs away at Augusta. Next year, he’ll be here for the Champion’s Dinner, and as a spectator.
“These guys are competitors,” Hilary Watson said. “I think it’s going to be hard for him to be here and not be playing next year. But all good things come to an end.”