Sport Golf

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Elementary for evergreen Watson

Veteran becomes oldest man to break par at Masters as 'minor miracle' soothes pain of Ryder Cup debacle

Tom Watson reacts to his shot on the second fairway during the first round of the Masters golf tournament
Tom Watson reacts to his shot on the second fairway during the first round of the Masters golf tournament

James Corrigan

To some, Tom Watson's legacy will forever be blighted by his disastrous captaincy at the 2014 Ryder Cup, but there is no denying the number of remarkable entries on his CV.

Another 'minor miracle' was added here when the 65-year-old became the oldest player to break par at the Masters.

Watson's 71 was a thing of wonder; perhaps not as wondrous as his runner-up finish as a 59-year-old at the 2009 Open at Turnberry, but jaw-dropping all the same. The man himself was gobsmacked.

"It's fun to be able to at least be in red figures at Augusta National," Watson said. "At my age, it's a minor miracle."

While beating Europe proved well beyond him seven months ago, this evergreen two-time Green Jacket winner has no problem when he goes head to head with Father Time.

Watson is conceding almost 100 yards to some of these young bombers and, on a rain-soaked course measuring 7,435 yards, that is a huge deficit. But Watson gives nothing away in tenacity. He does not do ceremony and is not here merely to let the patrons skip through their cine reels of memories.

Almost 40 years on from the 'Duel in the Sun', he is having a duel with players young enough to be his grandsons.

"I was concentrating over that putt on the 18th," Watson said. "I really wanted to make that. I really wanted to break par."

The determination was written all over the lines on Watson's face. While the likes of Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson go in with short irons on the 465-yard par four, Watson was forced to use a three-wood. It had been that way all day.

"I couldn't even reach the (450-yard) seventh and the ninth is awfully tough for me to get at the pin," Watson said.

"The kids are hitting eight-irons to the seventh, and nine-irons to the ninth, and I'm back there hitting three-irons off the down slope to both the seventh and ninth. That's a hard shot for an old guy like me. Those greens aren't built to be receptive to woods and three-irons."

Watson had to rely on his short game and, as on the 10th where he holed from the bunker with a shot which would have rolled 15 feet past, the occasional slice of luck. On the last it was sheer willpower as he chipped down from over the back to eight feet and made the putt.

As Watson is to play his last Open at St Andrews in July, the presumption was that this was to be his last Masters. But probably because he did not want to steal Ben Crenshaw's farewell thunder (the two-time champion shot a horrific 91), Watson has vowed to go one more year. Pride is involved as well. "I want to make the cut, as I haven't done it for a few years," Watson said. He last played at the weekend here in 2010 and Watson knows why.

"I've played this course enough to know where I'm supposed to hit it and where I'm not supposed to hit it," Watson said. "But for the last few years I've been trying to hit shots like I used to. My ego has got involved too much. I played within myself today."

Critics talked of Watson's ego in the wake of America's Gleneagles shambles. Watson was accused by Phil Mickelson of not involving the players and basically saying "my way, or no fairway".

At that infamous after-match press conference, Watson sat stony faced as Mickelson picked his leadership to shreds. The pair will never be friends but Watson has tried to put the experience behind him. "It's not awkward," Watson said. "We said hello at the Champions' Dinner on Tuesday and that was it."

A display such as this should remind the world of what Watson truly should be remembered for. Today, he will attempt to become the oldest man to make the Masters cut. Gary Player was 62 when surviving the chop in 1998. In comparison with Watson, he was almost fresh-faced. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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