He’s one of the icons of golf, a titanic Hall-of-Fame name that is etched in golf lore along the likes Nicklaus, Palmer, Jones and Woods. And yet, at age 61, Tom Watson -- after more wins, accolades and money than he could have ever imagined, is still grinding it out at the Senior PGA Championship. What could motivate a golf icon to continue to battle, continue to fight, when there’s nothing more to prove?
“I enjoy beating people,” Watson said with a smile that told you he was having fun but was also genuine. “I enjoy the competition. I enjoy getting in the hunt and having a chance to win a golf tournament. And that's me. It defines me. And that's what I do for my career.”
Watson, who started the day seven shots back of the lead and tied for seventh, charged up the leaderboard with a sterling 4-under 68 and is now alone in third, only one shot behind co-leaders Hale Irwin and Kiyoshi Murota. Watson hit all 14 fairways off the tee and, though he wasn’t as adept at hitting greens (the wet conditions played a large part in that), saved himself by taking only 24 putts in the round.
“I was kind of like the Watson of old,” he grinned. “I scrambled and made a few good par putts and made a few birdies along the way.”
Despite a lone bogey on the 16th, Valhalla Golf Club’s most difficult hole, Watson’s round was never in any real jeopardy of being anything but stellar.
“I didn't miss the greens in too many bad places, let's put it that way,” he stated.
Watson was also able to overcome a shot that he may trademark as his own, at least the name.
“Let’s call it a ‘schlook’,” he deadpanned. “That ball hooked and then it sliced like this (indicating a two-way flight) and Neil Oxman (Watson’s caddie) said to me, ‘I wish the Phillies had pitching like that.’" That ball just went "whew, whew" through the air, it had so much mud on it. But fortunately it evened out and it was about a 15-foot putt and I made the putt for birdie.”
Watson, who won the 2001 Senior PGA Championship, admitted to early-season struggles prior to arriving in Louisville and that his expectations were tempered by his recent play. But an adjustment in his swing early in the week made “something click,” he explained, and the results have been outstanding.
“I was not playing very well. My practice at home wasn't very good, but I hit on something basically on the, after the first, actually before I played my first practice round I hit on something of my swing that, it's the same thing that I was trying to do back in '94 when I made a change in my golf swing,” Watson said. “And it was more extension away from the ball. And that sets my hands in a better position at the top. Wider. And it worked out. It worked out very well.”
Very well indeed as Watson has a chance to become the second-oldest champion in Senior PGA Championship history. (Jock Hutchison was 62 when he won in 1947.)
“I don't know how much longer I'll be playing, but I know that I still enjoy being in the hunt,” Watson stated. “And I still hate playing badly.”
No worries about that. Not this week. Not for this icon.