Once a golfer reaches age 40, let alone 50 or 60, the opportunities at winning decrease dramatically.
Maybe that’s why Tom Watson seemed to particularly cherish his win Sunday in the Senior PGA Championship.
Perhaps it was the possible finality of it.
“Obviously, it never ceases to be enjoyable, winning a golf tournament,” The 61-year-old Watson said after rolling in a 3-foot birdie putt on the first playoff to defeat David Eger. “I’ll go back and think about this tournament. If this is the last tournament I ever win, it’s not a bad one to win.”
Down a shot with four holes left in regulation, Watson became the oldest player to win a major since the senior tour was created in 1980. He also became the second-oldest winner of the Senior PGA Championship, and the third-oldest winner of a Champions Tour event. The victory came 10 years, 2 days after he won his other Senior PGA Championship at Ridgewood Country Club in 2001.
Watson may not be the same player he was in his prime, but there have been very few players in history as good at sealing the deal with the outcome teetering.
“It’s amazing,” said Eger, a longtime PGA Tour and U.S. Golf Association rules official who worked closely with Watson and other superstars for a couple of decades.
“Tom hasn’t played well this year until this week and suddenly, bam, it clicked on. I don’t know what he does out there in Kansas City, or Hawaii, or wherever in the world he goes. But whatever he does, it’s been the right formula.”
Watson closed with a 2-under 70 to finish at 10-under 278 and capture his 14th career major, six since turning 50 to go with five British Opens, two Masters and a U.S. Open.
“Coming into the tournament I really didn’t give myself any chance based on the way I was practicing last week in Kansas City,” he said. “But the light switch went on.”
A club rep pointed out a subtle change in his swing. From there, it was bad news for the rest of the field.
“Lo and behold, I started making good swings again,” he said, as if he were surprised.
Both Eger and Watson missed short birdie putts on the 72nd green that would have won for either in regulation, Eger pulling a 6-footer and Watson pushing one from 4 feet. Watson went for the green with his rescue-club second shot on the playoff hole, the 18th, but it came up short and in the deep and gaping bunker that fronts the green.
“If it went into the bunker, that was just where I wanted to be,” he said.
Eger caught a bad break when his drive came to rest in a grassy finger on the edge of a large bunker along the left side of the fairway. He hit a layup and then a wedge to 10 feet, but missed the birdie attempt.
“I hit a pretty good third shot up there,” Eger said. “I thought I hit a really good putt. It just was not good enough.”
Taking little time after blasting out of the sand to 3 feet, Watson calmly stroked in the winner while the large gallery at Valhalla Golf Club cheered and applauded.
Watson seemed surprised to find himself with the crystal trophy and the $360,000 first-place check at the end.
“Wow. Winning again at 61,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t think it’s an age thing but, God, I’ve been out here a long time.”
But the winning, even for a longtime legend like Watson, never gets old.