Watson is making his first start since winning the Masters on a course where he has made just three of six prior cuts and has never finished better than T-37. He managed a 69 in the opening round, though, and after an even-par 72 Friday he’ll be staying through the weekend at TPC Sawgrass.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Watson, who remains nine shots behind Martin Kaymer through two rounds. “I know what it takes around here now a little bit.”
Several players this week have noted the difficult sight lines of Pete Dye’s Stadium Course, with Rory McIlroy describing the layout as “visually awkward” after his opening round. Watson echoed those sentiments, adding that most of his worries here derive from wayward tee shots.
“There’s a lot of intimidation,” he said. “For me, what makes this golf course so tough is really the grass, the kind of grass it is. Anytime I’m hitting out of the rough, it’s going to be a flier. The way I impact the ball, it just jumps.
“So anytime I’m in the rough – which, I’m in the rough a lot – it makes it very difficult for me.”
Watson took 14 days off from golf following his second triumph at Augusta National, a layoff that included a trip back to his hometown along the Florida Panhandle. He’s played each of the last nine days, though, and feels no lingering effects from a three-week break from competition.
“I think I got all the rust off; I wouldn’t say I’m rusty this week,” Watson said. “This is the best I’ve ever been on this golf course, so I guess I ought to be happy with that.”
Watson is one of four players with a chance to become world No. 1 this week, and the southpaw needs at least a solo second-place finish to have a chance to knock Tiger Woods from his perch atop the standings. Should he ever reach the top spot, Watson was clear that he still won’t feel like the top player in the world.
“I don’t see it as No. 1,” he said. “Let’s just say it was Memorial or whatever, my next win, let’s just say if I ever win again and became No. 1, that would make me have seven wins on the PGA Tour. I mean, Tiger Woods has got 80 and he’s still playing on our Tour. You have Phil Mickelson, who has never been No. 1, and has 42 wins.
“So yeah, I wouldn’t be No. 1. People would say I’m No. 1, but nobody would still put me as the favorite if Tiger Woods was still in the field.”