Watson will be in Northern Ireland this week for the tournament at Royal Portrush, one of the worlds most renowned links layouts. He won last year despite a bogey on the final hole. But he got into a playoff when Carl Mason, ahead now by two, made a double bogey. And in the playoff Mason botched the 18th hole again, handing the title to the plucky Watson.
Watson had to withdraw from the British Open last week with shoulder and back ailments. He hopes to be ready to play the Seniors. And he hopes to break through to his first win this year after several close losses.
He tied for second at the ACE Group Classic, placed third at the Alliance Championship and tied for fourth at the Senior PGA Championship. But in his last outing, at the Bayer Advantage Celebrity Pro-Am, he was way back in a tie for 50th. Thats golf, he says, reflecting back on last year when he was the player of the year on the Champions Tour. This is a sport that takes just as fast as it gives.
We all go through bad spells, Watson says. If you go through a bad spell after a good year, you just say, Well, Ill just wait a while and itll be back.
If you go through a bad year and youre still going through a bad spell, you start panicking a little bit. Then you start to panic a lot.
But the panic is eased when you once again see the birdies falling.
A good year can help you get through those rough spots ' which we all have. It doesnt feel quite right today, I can do it, I know I can do it, dont worry about a bad swing or a bad shot. Thats what a good year will do for you. Thats what a good tournament will do for you.
Watson has blended in nicely with the gents of the Champions Tour. Now 54 years old, the winner of 39 victories on the regular tour has time for his family of three children amongst the tournament schedule. And he goes about the business of golf without the intensity he displayed 15 years ago.
This tour is more relaxed, he said. Over-all, its just more relaxed.
But that doesnt the Champions is any less competitive.
Look at Hale (Irwin) ' Hale has dominated this tour since he first came out here. The only reason I beat him for Player of the Year last year was because he was half crippled ' his back went out on him the U.S. Open and he couldnt play half the year. I probably wouldnt have otherwise. Hes the cream of the crop out here.
But you know, weve got Craig (Stadler) out here now ' Craigs going to win a lot. Watch out for Eduardo Romero in July! I saw him at the Masters and I said, When are coming out? He said, I cant wait! July! July! He hits the ball so far. Hell dominate the tour someday.
Watson is averaging 282 yards off the tee ' far more than he did when he was winning eight majors on the regular tour. Improved equipment has made him a long hitter even into the 50s. Its just an example of how different the game has become.
There was a real difference in short hitters and the long hitters in days past, said Watson. There isnt anymore ' there simply arent any short hitters. But in the old days of the persimmon driver ' you hit the ball in the neck with a persimmon, and it didnt go anywhere. The longer hitters might get 235.
Now, you hit it in the neck, that sweet spot is about two inches wide, it goes for a mile. The good players dont miss the big ole sweet spot very often.
Watson remembers taking out a persimmon driver a couple of years ago down in Australia. And he remembers the results. Its enough to want time to roll back the hands of time.
I hit it great, he exclaimed. Hit it right in the middle of the face.
Anymore, though, you cant work the ball with a driver. Thats the balls fault. The ball just doesnt spin as much.
Watsons step-children are aged 12, 15 and 17. They may be something of a detriment playing good golf. But its a detriment that he will gladly discharge.
Its a wonderful distraction. A wonderful distraction, he says readily.
The little girls is getting involved in team penning, a cattle game on which you chase three cattle out of a big herd into a pen at the end of the arena. You have to rope a little bit. Cowboy stuff.
Not me! I just pay the bills and watch.