Last years runner-up hopes take that one final step forward and claim top honors in the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Country Club in Toledo, Ohio.
A year ago, the 53-year-old lost to tour rookie Don Pooley in what was the most exciting final round of the season. Pooley became the first qualifier to win the prestigious event when he birdied the 77th hole to knock off Watson at Caves Valley.
Unlike the regular Open, there is no 18-hole playoff in the senior version. There is a three-hole aggregate playoff followed by sudden death.
This year, however, has been a dismal one for the Open champion. Shoulder surgery in January has limited him to just three tournaments, including a missed cut in the U.S. Open.
Of course, Watson was a huge factor at Olympia Fields. He shared the lead after a first-round 65, and eventually tied for 28th. His headlines were enlarged enough to share room for his caddie, Bruce Edwards, who is suffering from ALS, or Lou Gehrigs disease.
Watson and Edwards received a standing ovation walking up the 72nd hole. Edwards told his boss that they would be back in 2004. Watson replied, Im going to have to win the Senior Open. Well be back next year at Shinnecock.
The winner of the Senior Open gets an exemption into the U.S. Open. He will also earn $475,000 this year.
This is the 24th playing of the tournament. Two-time champion Hale Irwin (1998, 2000) was hoping to make a comeback after withdrawing from the U.S. Open when back spasms forced him to be carried off the course in a cart, but the problems have persisted and he has withdrawn from this event as well. Irwin won the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness.
Craig Stadler has also had a little Inverness success. The 50-year-old, who made his tour debut by finishing tied for 15th in the Senior PGA Championship, won the 1973 U.S. Amateur Championship on this Donald Ross layout. But he missed the cut in the 79 U.S. Open; tied for 30th in the 1986 PGA Championship, and again missed the cut in the 93 PGA.
Six players, including Pooley, have won this event in their first appearance.
There have been only two repeat winners in this event. Miller Barber did so in 1984 and 85, while Gary Player won in 87 and 88. Irwin and Nicklaus (1991, 93) are the only other multiple winners. Barber is the lone three-time champion, having claimed his first Senior Open title in 1982.
This is the middle of three major championships played in a five-week span. The Senior PGA was two weeks ago, while the Ford Senior Players Championship is in two weeks.