Watson keeping promise to Greenbrier
Times definitely are changing on the PGA Tour, although the two players every tournament director still wants in his field are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
The Greenbrier Classic, which will be played for the second time this week on the Old White TPC Course in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., was fortunate to land Lefty, who is coming off a tie for second in the Open Championship.
There were rumors that Woods also might play as he tries to come back from the latest problem with his left knee, but Friday's deadline came and went without word from the erstwhile No. 1 player in the world.
But Jim Justice, owner of the Greenbrier, landed the player he wanted most: 61-year-old Tom Watson, who has been the resort's pro emeritus since 2005.
And he didn't even have to ask.
Watson missed the inaugural Greenbrier Classic because he was playing in the US Senior Open at Sahalee in Seattle, but promised Justice he would be on hand for the tournament in the Allegheny Mountains this week.
"Last year, I knew I disappointed Jim not playing in the first tournament here," said Watson, who is passing on the 2011 US Senior Open at Inverness in Toledo to honor his commitment at the Greenbrier.
"And I told him the reasons. Even before he asked me (about this year's tournament), I said, 'Jim, I'm coming to play in the Classic.' And to tell you what type of guy Jim is, he calls me up after I won the Senior PGA (in May) and said, 'Tom, if you want to play in the Senior Open, I don't want to stop you. I know how important that is to you.'
"I told Jim, 'No, I made a commitment to play in the Greenbrier Classic, and that's where I'll be.' "
And he's not simply going to be there as window dressing.
Said Justice: "I wouldn't be surprised if Tom Watson, if he gets his putter going, (is) the whole story once again."
Watson plays a limited schedule these days, having played only seven times on the Champions Tour this season in addition to teeing it up in the Masters and the Open Championship.
With a tie for 22nd at Royal St. George's, he showed he still can play with what Lee Trevino calls "the flat bellies," two years after he came within a bad bounce on the 72nd hole of winning the Open at Turnberry.
Last week, he bounced back from an opening 75 to finish in a tie for third in the Senior British Open at Walton Heath.
"I still like to compete, bottom line; I really enjoy the competition," said Watson, who claimed 39 titles on the PGA Tour and has added 14 on the Champions Tour. "There are times when I can't compete (with the younger players) when I am not playing that well, but for the most part I still can. There are certain courses I can compete on and there are others that I really can't.
"I'm not playing too bad. I'm hoping that my new putting stroke will help me roll the ball better. I was having a problem getting the ball to roll smoothly. When that happens you don't know where it is going."
Watson does not hit the ball nearly as far as he once did and not even close to the distance of that other Watson — Bubba. But the rest of the game that enabled Tom to win eight major championships is as solid as ever.
With average putting he has a chance in any tournament, and if he putts well he's right in the mix.
How long can he keep this up?
"I don't know," Watson told reporters at Royal St. George's who asked how long he'll keep playing. "Until this whole body says no mas. Until I can't compete. If I'm out there not able to compete and shooting 80 or 78 or 76 all the time, I'm not going to stay around very much if I do that."
Then he borrowed a phrase from the greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus: "I guess I refuse to be a ceremonial player. When that time comes, then I'll hang them up."
Unless that happens overnight, we can expect to see Watson hanging around for the next few years.
Watson certainly has made a huge impression on the new breed of Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa, Matteo Manassero and Tom Lewis when he has played alongside them, but it goes both ways.
"When you see these kids and the speed with which they hit the golf ball with their driver, it's just a different sound," said Watson, who grew up playing real woods. "Their sound is a whooshhhheee. Mine is a thud.
"The kids hit it so far past me. ... I remember how it was to have the world at my feet."
Of course, none of that matters when he tees it up against them. As for his expectations this week, Watson said: "I want to kick these kids' butts, is what I want to do."
And they know he can do it, too.