Denis Watson made only one bogey in the third round, that on the treacherous par-3 17th at the Ocean Course. (Photo: Getty Images)
Denis Watson made only one bogey in the third round, that on the treacherous par-3 17th at the Ocean Course. (Photo: Getty Images)

Watson -- not that one -- enjoying resurgence at Ocean Course

Denis Watson was stricken with so many injuries in his career that he played only 30 tournaments in 14 years. But the Zimbabwean is finally healed and back with the vengeance at the Senior PGA Championship.

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- It's no surprise to see the name "Watson" lurking near the top of the leaderboard in a major championship.

What is surprising is that at the 68th Senior PGA Championship at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course the "Watson" threatening the lead isn't that "Watson" -- as in Tom, winner of seven major championships, including a staggering five British Opens.

Instead it's Zimbabwe's Denis Watson. No relation to Tom.

Entering the third round of the Champions Tour's first major of the 2007 season, Watson was four shots off Eduardo Romero's lead at 2 under par. With the calmest conditions of the week settling into Kiawah Island, Watson took advantage and delivered a timely 3-under-par 69. At 5 under for the tournament, Watson was tied for second with fellow Zimbabwean Nick Price, just two shots behind Romero with 18 holes to play.

"It's been tight since the first round," Watson said. "You get a little tight when you go play this golf course. I'm obviously very happy to be where I am. Strange day today for me on the greens. I made two long putts and missed several makeable putts. So I guess it kind of evened out."

Watson's only bogey in the third round came on the par-3 17th, which played as the second-most difficult hole on the course Saturday. It was his first bogey in 21 holes.

"But I just hate making bogey at 17," he laughed, "like everybody else that made bogey."

Watson, 51, is making his debut in the Senior PGA Championship this week. While he may not be as well-known as Tom, Denis Watson is certainly an accomplished player in his own right. He spent parts of 16 years on the PGA TOUR from 1980-96, where he had three wins, all coming in 1984.

He is also playing exceptionally well on the Champions Tour in 2007, where he has racked up four top-10 finishes in seven starts, including a tie for second at Turtle Bay in his first start of the season, as well as a tie for third last week in the Regions Charity Classic.

While his game as is good as ever, the one monumental thing that has arguably prevented Watson from becoming a household name over the years is his health -- or lack thereof.

The man is unluckier than Friday the 13th.

Since 1987, he has had a number of injuries that limited his starts. First there was the wrist and elbow surgery he had in 1989, followed by a cervical fusion in 1991. Later, he had a procedure that corrected a neck problem that had existed since 1985. He also missed a bunch of the 2006 season while recovering from right-shoulder surgery.

"This last year when I was due to come out on the Champions Tour, I had been getting ready and my shoulder would freeze up," he said. "I had to go through what I thought was a severe surgery. I thought it was going to be less tough than it was. But I was in rehab for a solid five-and-a-half months before I started even picking up a golf club. Then I still had to put it down and go back to rehab for awhile after that. So, yeah, it's frustrating."

Just how difficult were those injuries to come back from? Watson said someone gave him a statistic that he had played just 30 events in 14 years.

"And most of those were some Nationwide Tour events and when you don't do this tournament golf every week, it's a bit of a shock to the system when you get out there and you get in the lead," he said.

Did he ever think of walking away from the game? And what did he do with all that free time?

"It's wonderful to be playing golf again. To get out and do what you like to do is a wonderful thing. As far as walking away from the game, I had doubts at times whether I would be able to get back," he said. "So, yeah, it's frustrating. But there have been a lot of other great things. I spent a lot of time with my kids. I have five little ones. Two sets of twins. I have Sloan and Saxon here with me this week, boy and a girl, 4 years old. And I have 5-year-old boys and a 6-year-old girl. You know, you can't deny that that's just a great time to be around your children. So I was around them a lot. We had a great time."

While Watson is thrilled to be playing again, his old buddy Price -- who he played junior golf with as teenagers in Zimbabwe -- is just as happy to see him back. Fittingly, the good friends will be in the final threesome along with Eduardo Romero on Sunday.

"We haven't played together for a while," Price said. "And I'm really happy that he's making a resurgence. He's such a talented player. In 1984 he had such a wonderful four or five months there. He won three. I know he's been plagued with injuries, but I think he's one of those players who is going to just have a great Champions Tour career. I think he's got the bit between his teeth now and he's come close to winning a couple of times, last week, and I think his confidence is very high. There are very few people who get as confident as he does when he's playing well. So he's going to be a major factor tomorrow, there's no doubt. It will be fun."

Certainly more fun than nursing an injury. 

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