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Notes Watson Ready for British Opens

2006 Senior PGA ChampionshipEDMOND, Okla. -- At 56, Tom Watson understands that his golf career is winding down. But he still thinks he can be competitive in one of his favorite tournaments -- if the conditions are right.
Watson, who will play in the Senior PGA Championship this week at Oak Tree Golf Club, already is looking forward to playing in back-to-back British Opens in July. The regular British Open will be in England at Royal Liverpool, a course Watson never before has played, and the following week, the Senior British Open will be at Ayrshire in Scotland.
Those two tournaments will end a five-week stretch during which Watson also will play in the Greater Kansas City Golf Classic in Overland Park, Kan.; the U.S. Senior Open at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan.; and the Ford Senior Players Championship in Dearborn, Mich.
The five-time British Open winner was asked Wednesday if he thinks a player 50 or older will someday win a major on the regular PGA Tour. (He answered yes.) That led to an obvious question: Could that player be him?
'I think that the British Open is more of a place where I could win,' Watson said. 'The Masters, I'm out of the equation at the Masters. Unless we get real hard conditions, the Masters is pretty much out of my league. The U.S. Open, the way they're adding length ... I couldn't do it at the U.S. Open. But at the British Open, I might still be able to do it.'
He said that at last year's British Open at St. Andrews, 'the golf course played like a rock,' which is ideal for his game.
'The conditions would have to be firm, they would have to be rock-hard and they would have to be pretty windy for me to win,' Watson said.
Gil Morgan, who plays out of Oak Tree, said the par-5, 528-yard 16th hole could loom large this week. It's probably the best chance players will have to reach a green on a par-5 in two shots, but they must navigate away from two large bunkers and a creek to the left of the split-level green.
'I think 16 is a hole that could make or break somebody's championship,' Morgan said. 'It's a situation where you can make an eagle or ... you might make a big number there.'
Hale Irwin has only played one previous tournament at Oak Tree -- the 1988 PGA Championship -- but agreed with Morgan that No. 16 and the 175-yard par-3 17th are key holes. But Irwin added the course's opening hole, a 437-yard par-4, should grab a golfer's attention quickly.
'I think 1 can set the tone, because it's a very difficult starting hole,' Irwin said. 'It's a narrow driving hole. You've got a relatively short second (shot). But you have to hit the fairway. If you don't, you've got the pond there in front (of the green). So you could start really uncomfortable on this golf course.'
Tom Kite tied for fourth in the 1988 PGA Championship at Oak Tree. He fancies himself a contender again on the Pete Dye-designed course if he can correct a recent inconsistency in his game.
'My iron play has got to step up,' Kite said. 'That's the thing I'm working on right now. I'm putting very well and I'm driving it pretty well right now, so if I can get a little better control of my irons, I think I'll have a good week.'
Kite has four top-five finishes on the Champions Tour this year, including a win in the AT&T Classic in Valencia, Calif., in March.
Arnold Palmer and Ray Floyd are among the 12 golfers who have withdrawn from the tournament for various reasons.
Palmer, 76, withdrew May 15 because of concerns he wouldn't be competitive. The Senior PGA would have been his first Champions Tour start of the year. Floyd withdrew Monday, citing medical reasons.
Others who have withdrawn this week are Bobby Nichols, Gibby Gilbert, Mark Lye, Mike Sullivan and Stan Souza. All did so for medical reasons except for Souza, who said he had travel difficulties. Souza had received his berth a day earlier, when Floyd dropped out.
Replacing Souza will be Efren Serna of Mexico. Serna is thought to be the first Mexican-born professional to compete in the Senior PGA.
The Senior PGA will have a $2 million purse, with the winner receiving $360,000, the runner-up earning $216,000 and the third-place finisher taking home $136,000. ... Kathy Whitworth, a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, is the recipient of the 2006 PGA First Lady of Golf Award. She was to be honored at a banquet in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night ... Two golfers are making their Champions Tour debuts in the Senior PGA. Joe Ozaki of Japan turned 50 on May 18 and Kirk Hanefeld's 50th birthday was Wednesday.
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