Its the Watson of Old at 96 Memorial

RSS

In the years from 1977 to 1984, Tom Watson was the best golfer on the planet. In that eight-year span, only once did he fail to win at least three times. In 1980 he won seven times. From 77 to 84, he won a total of 33 events, surely as dominating an era as there was until a young man Tiger Woods emerged on the scene.
 
Watson was a deadly putter who was magnificent with the irons, homing in on the flag time after time after time. It wasnt until the putter began to fail him that he slipped in 1985. From midway through the 84 season until he graduated to the Senior (now Champions) Tour in 2000, he won just three more times.
 
One of those wins was the Memorial Tournament in 1996. For one wonderful week, the putts all dropped into the cup. Hardly a three-footer went by the hole. It was his first win since the Nabisco Championship in 1987, and it just had to happen at the boyhood home of the legendary Jack Nicklaus ' whom Watson supplanted as the top player in the game.
 
It was the most exciting win Ive had in 10 years ' and I think you know what Im talking about, said Nicklaus, an oblique reference to his win at the Masters in 1986.
 
Watson was 46 years old in 1996. Possibly its the second era of Tom Watson, said Watson afterwards. Alas, it wasnt ' he would win only once more on the regular tour, then shuffle off to the Champions Tour. But that did nothing to remove the luster of his victory that week.
 
Saturday, the old Watson first gave notice that this may have been a version of the new Watson. He shot a 66 and leaped to the head of the class, doing it as much with the dreaded putter as with all the other clubs in his bag. Three times he got down in birdie on par-5s, two-putting from long range. He also knocked in a 20-footer, a 15-footer, a 12-footer. The culmination was at the 17th, when he blasted out of a deep bunker and into the cup for yet another birdie.
 
All of which sent Watson into the final round with a one-shot lead over Ernie Els and two over Paul Stankowski and John Huston. And with a mist coming down most of the day Sunday, Watson hung tough hour after hour.
 
The old putting bugaboo reared its head on the first hole and Watson three-jacked for a bogey. It looked he might do the same on the second until he stepped up to the four-footer and drilled it. Number 3 was a carbon copy after Els made bogey ' Watsons first try with the putter rolled four feet past, but again he was equal to the challenge, nailing it for par.
 
Watson hung in there for hole after hole, eventually going ahead by four with just four holes to play. But then seemingly out of nowhere, a hard-charging David Duval was striding up to birdie 14, eagle 15 and birdie 16. When Duval also birdied 18, Watsons lead had now been trimmed to only a shot.
 
Watson played No. 17 shakily, thinning an 8-iron across the green to the back fringe, but then recovering with a beautiful chip to two feet. Still ahead by one, he came to the 18th and played it in true Watson fashion.
 
He hit a good drive, then his 6-iron approach died 15 feet from the flag. On the green, caddie Bruce Edwards gave him the line, indicating it would break a little left.
 
No, thought Watson, Ive seen this putt too many times to play it with break. Its straight in.
 
Then, he stroked it.
 
And the putt rolled straight into the hole. It was a two-shot win for Tom Watson. Even his competition found it hard to be glum on this day.
 
Its hard not to root for him, said Duval. If you have to get beat, hes not too bad to get beat by. Im just starting out. If Tom Watson wins and I have to wait another week, another month, thats fine.