It was dreamlike: Misty-eyed codger Tom Watson traveling back in time on his favorite linksland of Turnberry, Scotland, to nearly win his sixth British Open at the preposterous age of 59. It was the best golf story of 2009, and it poses an intriguing question in 2010: Could such magic reoccur at the Masters?
Unlikely, Watson says.
He calls himself a "ceremonial golfer" at Augusta, where he will be making his 37th start and where he hasn't made the cut since 2002. It comes down to length, and Watson's lack of it on a course that has been stretched to a brawny 7,435 yards. Specifically it comes down to two mighty tests.
"Seven and 17," Watson says. "I have a real hard time playing those holes." The seventh is a 450-yard par-4 that plays uphill, to a green surrounded by five bunkers. The 17th is also an uphill par-4, measuring 440 yards.
Many would argue that those greens were built to receive short-iron approaches, but only the longest players enjoy hitting such shots into them now. Watson is not long enough off the tee to give himself any kind of a lofted iron for his approach to either. "I'm playing such a low-trajectory shot into those greens that I can't hold them," he says.
Augusta National isn't the same course it was when Watson won in 1977 and '81. It hasn't been the same place since 1997, when Tiger Woods obliterated the course and won by 12 shots (Watson finished 4th). That result prompted a radical overhaul, albeit one that happened in slow motion.
The club added a "second cut" or "rough" in 1999. It lengthened nine holes a total of 285 yards in 2002, added pine trees to the right of the 11th fairway in 2004, and pulled tees back on holes one, four, seven, 11, 15 and 17 in 2006.
As a result, Watson said at the British, the course outgrew him. He might be able to put together one or two good rounds if everything goes just so, but not four in a row, as Sandy Lyle did last year at 51, shooting 72-70-73-71 to tie for 20th.
"Sandy can move it," Watson says. "He's a lot longer than I am."
Watson may be a dreamer, but it's Scotland that brings out the dreamer in him. And he's not crazy. Ah, well. We'll always have Turnberry.