Tom Watson says making Masters cut not enough, so it's time to go
By Jim Litke
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tom Watson's to-do list at the Masters has changed plenty over four decades, but it usually ended with the same goal: a major championship.
On the eve of his last competitive go-round at Augusta National, the 66-year-old, two-time winner finally acknowledged a much more modest plan.
"This is a lot like when I first joined the tour," Watson said, "in that all I'm trying to do is make the cut.
"That's not enough," he added a moment later, "so it's time to say, 'Adios.'"
Watson actually has a few more things on his plate, among them leaving an egg-salad sandwich on the bench at the 13th tee as a tribute to Bruce Edwards, a close friend and former caddie who died of Lou Gehrig's disease on the first morning of the 2004 Masters.
He's also signing autographs at every turn and made a point to play practice rounds with up-and-comers such as 18-year-old Asia-Pacific Amateur champion Cheng Jin. It's a way for Watson to pay forward the lessons that veterans like Ken Venturi and Byron Nelson once taught him.
"They said, 'This is the type of shot you should play into this green, this is where you miss it,'" Watson recalled. "It's the right thing to do."
He was guarded with his feelings earlier this week, though Watson admitted tearing up hearing old stories at Tuesday night's Champions Dinner. And he replayed some of his pivotal shots at one of golf's most enduring venues, especially at No. 16.
In 1975, still struggling to shake off his label as "choker," Watson went off the final day with a chance to catch Jack Nicklaus, the game's dominant player.
"I promptly put my ball in the water on the left trying to hit a cut shot," he said. The deep lines in Watson's face grew prominent as he winced recalling a second tee shot into the water and finally, a two-putt for quadruple bogey.
"And then I watch Jack," Watson said, his voice trailing off. He raised his hand to show how Nicklaus hoisted the trophy barely an hour later. "The infamous Jack," he added.
But just two years later, locked into another back-and-forth with Nicklaus, a 5-iron into that same green convinced Watson he was finally tough enough to be a major champion.
"I hit it, absolutely hit it exactly the way I wanted to. It covered the flag, a little bit of a fade, just like (Ben) Hogan used to play. Came down right at the hole and went by about 12 feet. .. As soon as I hit that shot, the pressure just drained right out of my body," Watson continued. "It happened then for the first time in my career when the chips were really down."
Watson's son, Michael, who's spent most of the week at his father's side, recalled getting chills the first time he heard the story.
"He said all the angst and anxiety he'd had in those situations just fell away," Michael Watson said. 'It was the start of something big."
Watson proved it by making birdie at No. 17. The roar following his putt was so loud that Nicklaus backed off his own second shot into 18, then hit into a greenside bunker and made bogey.
"He was very kind to me after," Nicklaus said. "He said Jack made bogey in '77 on the last hole to make it easier for him to win. Well, he made it very difficult for me. It's the only time in my life I can ever recall that I had a game plan that ... I changed it because of what somebody did on another hole."
Watson coasted to a two-shot win and three months later, topped Nicklaus a second time in the famed "Duel in the Sun" at Turnberry, considered one of the great head-to-head matches of the last century. He eventually usurped Nicklaus' No. 1 spot in the rankings, on the money list and collected eight majors.
"And now," Michael Watson said, "he needs to play his best just to have a chance to make the cut."
Tom Watson concedes he doesn't have the length for Augusta, even though he was competitive enough on the hard links courses across the Atlantic to contend for a British Open title in 2009.
But he said his goodbyes to the galleries at St. Andrews last and, while he plans to return to Augusta for the Champions Dinner, and could likely be convinced to join Nicklaus and Gary Player for the ceremonial starters' tee shots, this will be his last tour as a member of the field.
Watson opened with a 71 last year, but followed it with an 81 and failed to unseat Tommy Aaron, who was 63 in 2000, as the oldest player to make the cut.
Copyright (2016) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. This article was written by Jim Litke from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.