Watsons team up for memorable 67
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The man with a front-row seat to a special round of golf Thursday knows a little bit about pressure. Perhaps not major championship pressure, but pressure nonetheless.
It was only a few days ago that Michael Watson was playing Augusta National with his legendary father, Tom, when they reached the 13th hole.
The plan was for Michael to knock his second shot over the green, then summon his girlfriend, Beth Lindquist, from the gallery to help him look for his golf ball.
That was where Michael would retrieve an engagement ring from his pocket and pop the question amid the dogwoods and azaleas.
"Everybody was in on the scam," Tom Watson said, laughing.
Trouble was, Michael had difficulty following through. Not with the proposal, but the golf shot. He had been thinking about the moment from the eighth hole on. When he finally got into position he hooked it into the woods.
"I choked," Michael said, smiling. He simply had to alter the plan that resulted in Beth becoming his fiancée and was followed by caddying for his Hall of Fame father in the Masters.
"That started the week off very nicely," the older Watson said. "I think a big part of my success today was having my son on the bag. He said, 'Dad, show me. Show me you can still play this golf course.' You know what, I wanted to show him I can still play the golf course."
And he did, at least for one impressive round.
Tom Watson, at age 60 the oldest player in the field, is hardly showing his age just like this past summer at Turnberry.
His 5-under-par 67 was his best at Augusta National in more than 30 years -- he shot 67 in the final round when he won in 1977 -- and the first time he broke 70 since 1997.
Actually, it matched his lowest score in 37 Masters.
"Ever?" Phil Mickelson asked. "Wow."
"Well, I keep thinking back to the British Open last year, how great he played for 72 holes," Mickelson said. "The tendency would be to look at his score and think, 'Well, it was one good round, but we still have three more.'
"After what he did at the British Open, you could think he could keep this up; he's going to be a real factor in this event, and I would not be surprised if he was."
Watson's good form did not end at Turnberry, where he shockingly was a par away from claiming the Claret Jug but bogeyed the 18th hole and then lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink.
Despite the disappointment of that finish -- Watson would have become the oldest player to win a major championship by 11 years -- the run remains enormously popular among golf fans.
When Watson entered the interview room at Turnberry after falling to Cink, he sensed the disappointment. "This ain't a funeral, you know," he quipped.
On Thursday, Watson entered the Augusta National media center with the same comment, drawing laughter.
"After Turnberry, I would have to say that there's been a certain glow about the whole situation, even though I finished second," Watson said. "And the glow comes from the people who watched it and who have come up to me and have commented to me about what they thought of it.
"There's been a couple of them that -- actually, more than a couple, but a lot of them have said, you know, I'm not too old now. You've just proven to me that I'm just not too old."
"I have to convince everyone that he is 60 because he plays like he's 30," said fellow Champions Tour player Peter Jacobsen.
Steve Marino just shook his head in amazement. He played with Watson on Thursday at Augusta National, as he did during the third round this past summer at the British Open, when Watson shot 71 and took the 54-hole lead.
"I don't know if you can put an age on how anybody is playing, but he's playing like one of the best players in the world right now," Marino said. "It's pretty unbelievable. The guy just hits it so solid and so straight. Both times I've played with him that's what it's been like, and it's hard for me to imagine him ever shooting over par."
Watson would have flirted with an above-par score without a strong short game. After birdies at the first and third holes, Watson parred his way toward the back nine until going five straight without hitting a green.
And yet, he got up and down for par each time, including after hitting into the water with his second shot at the par-5 13th. Watson rolled in a long birdie putt at the 15th, made another at the 16th, then knocked it to 5 feet at the 18th for a birdie and a 67 that tied him for the lead.
Watson has long maintained that he could compete at a British Open venue because a links course is hard and fast and plays shorter. Augusta National is another story.
"He said at the dinner the other night, 'It's just too long for me to compete here,'" Jack Nicklaus said after completing his duties as honorary starter. "But I would never put it by him. You never know what Watson could do. Watson is just really he's still a very good, very good player."
Nicklaus said that hours before Watson finished.
A 39-time winner on the PGA Tour, Watson won eight major championships, including the 1977 and 1981 Masters.
That was a time when he was expected to win.
Watson is long past that point now, but his son was hearing none of it. Michael is 27 and caddying for his dad for the first time in a major championship.
"I think he's out here to win," Michael said. "He's not out here just to make the cut. He hasn't been that successful lately at the Masters, and I think he wants to prove to himself and others he's still able to make a run out here."
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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Date: Apr. 8-11, 2010
2010 champion: Phil Mickleson
Course: Augusta National Golf Club
Where: Augusta, Ga.
Yardage, par: 7,435 yards, par-72