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Watson savors Turnberry memories

Thursday, April 08, 2010

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All forgotten.

Tom Watson holds the flag as a putt heads his way on the ninth green during the Par-3 Contest at Augusta National Golf Club. (Michael Holahan/Staff)

Tom Watson thinks about the 18th hole at last July's British Open only when items such as a notebook, camera or microphone find him.

"I only think about it when people ask me," said the 60-year-old Watson.

On that day at Turnberry, Watson came within a putt of becoming the oldest man to win a major championship, and he endeared himself to sporting romantics all over the world.

Watson's undoing came when he hit an 8-iron over the green during regulation before losing to Stewart Cink in the four-hole playoff.

On Wednesday afternoon, Watson popped out the yardage to the 18th green at Turnberry in an instant.

"It was at 187," he said. "Could it have been a 9-iron? Yeah. It also could have been an 8-iron. I had a strong gust of wind at my back when I hit it. I think the yardage was right prior to when I hit the shot and maybe wrong when I hit. It was 200 yards to hit over the green, and that's a long 8-iron for a 591/2-year-old."

Since July, Watson has said several times in interviews that playing Augusta National Golf Club and putting his name on the leaderboard would be a different story because of the length of the course.

Today will be Watson's 37th Masters Tournament, and the two-time champ is scheduled to tee off at 9:07 a.m. with Tim Clark and Steve Marino.

"This is a longer golf course and requires certain shots that I have to be on my best," said Watson, the 1977 and 1981 champion. "I have to be between 95 (and) 100 percent to be able to play four quality rounds and get the shots into the greens like 17 and 7.

"No. 7 is a hard enough green to get on with a wedge, but when you are back there hitting a 6-iron or 5-iron, it makes it doubly tough."

Not that Watson is complaining about being at Augusta.

"Coming to Augusta, you always have a special feeling in your gut when you tee it up on the first tee," Watson said. "My first time here in 1970 I played as an amateur and I had that extra special feeling, and that feeling hasn't dissolved very much. Once you get on that first tee, it's still very, very special."

Watson said he has been encouraged during his practice rounds this week.

"I'm hitting the ball well," Watson said. "I put myself in the 90 percent area right now. I am giving myself a pretty good grade so far. Now, I hope I'm not jinxing myself by saying that."

Watson has a witness in 16-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero. They played a Monday practice round together.

"Tom Watson was hitting it well," Manassero said. "He's such a strong guy. He is still working fast on the course.

"That was a shame he didn't win the British Open. What he did was amazing."

Though the 18th hole at Turnberry is forgotten by Watson, the reaction he got from fans still brings a smile to his face.

"I was humbled," Watson said. "All kinds of things happened afterwards. The response in total was genuine. The thing I liked about it was people wrote and said, 'I was giving up on certain things in my life because of my age. But because of watching you I'm not going to give up on those things.' That was the coolest thing about that whole period of time."

There remains one thing Watson will never erase from his mind about last July at Turnberry.

"I still finished second," he said. "I didn't win the tournament."

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