KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii (AP)—Tom Watson had flashbacks of his painful BritishOpen loss while standing over his birdie putt on the 18th green with his youngeropponent hoping for a playoff and the gallery watching in suspense.
“I was thinking, ‘Don’t make a stroke like I made at Turnberry,”’ Watsonsaid. “‘Make a good stroke like I thought I was going to do at Turnberry anddidn’t do. … I can make this.”’
Watson made sure history would not repeat itself by making the 4-footer towin the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship on Sunday.Tom Watson smiles to the crowd…
AP - Jan 24, 11:22 pm EST
“This is what I live for in my career—to do what I did today,” he said.“I don’t think I’ll have too many more, but I had this one.”
The 60-year-old Watson became the 13th oldest player to win on the ChampionsTour, birdieing the final two holes for one-stroke victory over senior newcomerFred Couples .
Coming off a win with Jack Nicklaus in the Champions Skins at Kaanapali,Watson closed with a 7-under 65 to finish at 22-under 194 for his 13th ChampionsTour title.
“It wasn’t over until he said it was,” Couples said.
After pushing his drive into the right rough, Watson hit a spectacularsecond shot with a pitching wedge from 147 yards that rolled 20 feet on the 18thgreen and stopped 4 feet from the hole.
Couples just missed his 15-foot birdie putt to the left on the final hole.Watson calmly sank the winner and waved his cap to the roaring crowd.
The big-hitting Couples, who led all players with a 314-yard average drive,closed with a bogey-free 64, the lowest round of the day. He turned 50 inOctober.
“I was giving up 10 years and 50 yards off the tee,” Watson said.
It was a sweet victory for Watson, who made a magical run last year at theBritish Open before losing to Stewart Cink in a playoff. Watson wasn’t in themood for another playoff.
Watson said he’s received many heartfelt letters from fans who wereencouraged by his performance at Turnberry.
“It was humbling. It was unexpected for a guy that finished in second placeat a golf tournament,” he said.
He could get a few more after Sunday.
The 39-time PGA Tour winner is the oldest Champions Tour winner since GilMorgan in the 2007 Wal-Mart First-Tee Open at Pebble Beach. Last year, therewere no winners older than 55, something Watson early in the week said he hopedto “rectify.”
Again, Watson torched the back nine with five birdies. He had six on each ofthe first two days.
“I started the back nine the way I started all week,” Watson said. “Ibirdied the first three holes on the back nine and the game was on.”
Couples called it “ridiculous.”
Couples birdied the par-4 16th for a one-stroke lead over Watson at 21under. After a big drive, he hit a wedge from 118 yards to 12 feet.
But Watson tied Couples for the lead on No. 17 by sinking a 6-foot birdieputt.
It was Watson’s first victory in 34 career starts in Hawaii on the twotours.
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, is to win in Hawaii,” saidWatson, whose father died here 10 years ago. “He loved it over here. My momloved it over here. I’ve always loved Hawaii.”
Couples didn’t seem too upset with the runner-up finish. His first questionwalking off the green was, “Who won the football game?”
“I had a wonderful time. I think I was 21-under par and didn’t win atournament. That hasn’t happened too many times,” said Couples, who was tryingto become the 16th player to win his Champions Tour debut.
The 21-under par equaled the second-lowest score on the Champions Tour notto win a 54-hole event.
The 15-time PGA Tour winner hasn’t hoisted a trophy since the 2003 ShellHouston Open. Last year, he had four top-10 finishes in 16 starts on the regulartour and finished 75th on the money list.
Couples took his first lead by eagling the 566-yard 10th to reach 18 under.He hit an iron from the first cut of rough, setting up his 6-foot putt.
While the fans came to see Couples, Watson may have had a slight homefieldadvantage.
Watson purchased one of the sprawling homes at Hualalai about a year ago. Hewas also teammates with the course designer, Nicklaus, a week ago at the SkinsGame. They finished with 10 skins and $350,000 for their second victory in fouryears.
For his Mitsubishi victory, Watson takes home $315,000 and hook-shapedtrophy. It was his first official win since teaming with Andy North to win the2008 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.
Michael Allen birdied the final hole for a 66 to finish third at 18 under, astroke ahead of Tom Lehman (68). Both men played last week in the PGA Tour’sSony Open, with Lehman tying for 16th and Allen tying for 25th.
The 64-year-old Hale Irwin , a two-time champion at Hualalai, closed with a64 to finish fifth at 14 under. It was his second top-10 finish in a row aftergoing 41 straight tournaments without one.