AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – Tom Watson thumped his hands against his chest. He was thanking the thousands of fans who lined up 10 and 15 deep, craned their necks and stretched onto their tiptoes to watch one of history's best play the 18th green at Augusta National one last time.
Watson has known for a while that this scene – and the tears that accompanied it – would be coming. He thought he might stave it off for two more days.
But the two-time Masters champion shot a 6-over 78 on Friday that left him two shots off his goal this week – to become, at 66, the oldest player to make the cut in tournament history.
Not a tragedy, Watson insisted.
"I'm a realist," he said. "If I could still play this golf course, I wouldn't be retiring."
He's not done with competitive golf, but he did say he's all but finished teeing it up against "the young guys."
To him, that gave Friday afternoon's windy walk through the pines an even greater sense of finality than his last British Open, at St. Andrews last year, and his final U.S. Open, in 2010 at Pebble Beach.
"I've made the decision that the kids hit the ball too hard," Watson said. "This course really shows the difference."
Yes, Watson said, hitting a decent drive and having to pull out 3-wood for the next shot on No. 18 takes its toll after a while.
Exhibits of how this golf course has left him behind were everywhere Friday.
-- On No. 17, he stood at the high point of the fairway to gauge his approach shot ... then walked 30 paces back to his ball. On that hole, and so many others, he was hitting blind shots from huge distances into greens he could barely see.
-- Walking off the 14th green, he fist-bumped with a kid who, only moments earlier, saw Watson approaching and asked his mom, "Who's that?"
Nobody asked that back in the day.
At one point, Watson made 21 straight cuts here. He finished in the top 15 for 15 straight years starting with his victory in 1977.
He hasn't made the cut since 2010, though. When his final two-day stay at Augusta was over, he took time to reminisce.
He talked about when, as a 14-year-old, he won a Kansas City match-play tournament and got the first glimmer that he might be able to do this for a living.
And about the private phone calls he made to his mentors, PGA Professional Stan Thirsk of Kansas City and Byron Nelson, from a cabin after he won the first green jacket.
About his friendships with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, and how his arrival to the upper echelon of golf in the mid-70s changed that dynamic.
"Before that time, Arnold was my hero. Jack was the villain," Watson said.
Now, they're all beloved, and Watson's contribution could be felt as he walked the back nine, and heard chants of "Thank You, Tom" almost everywhere he went.
Of course, Watson wasn't the only person heading home Friday.
-- Rickie Fowler followed his opening-day 80 with a 73 to miss the Masters cut for the first time in his six appearances.
-- Phil Mickelson splashed balls into the water on 15 and 16 for double bogeys that left him needing to make 22-foot birdie on 18 to stick around. He didn't.
-- Marc Leishman stubbed a chip into the 18th green and made bogey to finish one shot off the number.
-- After Zach Johnson's round was over, officials ruled he touched the water with his club at Rae's Creek on No. 13; that two-shot penalty left him two shots away from the cut.
-- Bubba Watson was the lucky one. Watson wrapped up his second straight 75 early to finish at 6 over and looked like he'd be heading home. But leader Jordan Spieth made bogeys on 16 and 17 to bring Watson, who did not make the top 50, back via the 10-shot rule.
It was that other Watson who said goodbye.
On Thursday, his putter was working. He made a 45-footer for a birdie and saved pars on 16 and 17 with putts from 8 and 20 feet to shoot 74.
No such magic Friday.
"Yesterday, I putted the eyes out – the Watson of old," he said. "Today, I putted like I normally do."
So it was time to bid adieu.
He gave a long hug to his wife, Hilary, as he walked off 18 for the last time. He thanked a few of the men in green jackets and did one last round of interviews, where he talked about being a shy kid who learned to express himself by hitting good golf shots.
"I parlayed that into a professional golf career," Watson said. "Hope I entertained a lot of people over the years."
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