Senior PGA win validates Watson's renewed faith
For years, Denis Watson struggled unsuccessfully to overcome an almost unimaginable series of injuries. But thanks to a change in his basic outlook on life, Watson finally found his championship form on an emotional day at The Ocean Course.
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) -- Denis Watson recited his injuries, the long rehabilitations and a few family stories, for good measure.
"I have a lot to say right now because I haven't gotten the chance in 23 years," he said.
With his surprising come-from-behind victory in the Senior PGA Championship on Sunday, Watson earned the spotlight with his first U.S. victory since winning three PGA TOUR events in 1984.
Watson wondered at times if he would ever feel the success of winning again, told by no less an authority than teacher David Leadbetter that his swing was dead.
But thanks to a determined attitude -- along with confidence instilled by wife, Susan Loggans -- Watson once again found his championship form.
"I used to say, 'If I see, I believe,' " Watson said. "It's turned into, if you believe, you'll eventually see."
Watson, from Zimbabwe, edged Romero by two strokes to become the first international Senior PGA Championship winner since Gary Player in 1990.
The 51-year-old Watson was a rising star in the 1980s when he won the Buick Open, World Series of Golf and the Las Vegas Invitational. The next year, he tied for second at the U.S. Open. Soon after, though, Watson's rise ended when he hit into a hidden stump during a tournament in South Africa.
Watson continued playing, but would eventually find out he damaged his neck, wrist, back and shoulders. There was nerve damage, too.
Watson had eight or nine surgeries, he says, been in a back brace for weeks and spent years in rehab.
"Someone told me that I'd played 30 times in 14 years," Watson said. "That's not a lot of golf."
Things began to turn this season, his first full year on the Champions Tour.
Watson tied for second at the Turtle Bay Championship, then added three more top 10s heading into The Ocean Course, where he had to face Romero.
The Argentine star known as "El Gato," had handled The Ocean Course's famed sand dunes and Atlantic gusts the best of anyone the first three days. He was still ahead by two shots after birdies on the 11th and 12th holes pushed him to 10 under.
That's when things fell apart for Romero -- and Watson took advantage. Romero followed a bogey on the 13th hole with a double bogey on the par-3 14th when his tee shot all but buried in soft sand. "I knew from tee that it would (be plugged)," Romero said. "I thought 4 would be good. But I make double."
Watson, meanwhile, stuck his tee shot about 12 feet from the hole, urging it on with, "Be right. Be right. Be right. Be right. Yes!" Watson completed Romero's fall with a birdie, pumping his fist in triumph as he went to 9 under and gained a two-shot lead.
"If I can make this putt for a 2," Watson thought, "this is mine."
That proved true, although Watson briefly gave Romero hope. On the 15th hole, Watson's bogey sliced the lead to one. But Watson came back with birdie on the 16th to restore the margin.
Watson made pars on the 17th and 18th -- he had played the holes 6 over par the first three rounds -- for a 68. Watson again pumped his fist when his final putt went in, removing his wide-brimmed hat as the gallery applauded.
"Words cannot describe the feeling," Watson said. "Just to believe in my ability again."
Nick Price (71) finished at 6 under for third, his best placing since joining the Champions Tour this season.
Naomichi "Joe" Ozaki (72) was fourth at 4 under. Tim Simpson (70) was next at 2 under, and Brad Bryant (71) was another stroke back.
They were the only players to finish under par on Pete Dye's challenging seaside course, built for the 1991 Ryder Cup matches and hosting its highest profile tournament since.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.