LUTZ — Tom Watson knows his days in golf's spotlight are over. There will be no more green jackets, no more U.S. Open trophies, no more stunning chips at the British Open. As a two-time Masters champion, he still plays at Augusta National, but he said it would take a "more than perfect" effort to win.
But at 58, Watson has plenty of golf left. He proved that last year when he won the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am for his ninth Champions Tour victory since joining in 1999, then added the Senior British Open, his fifth senior major. There may come a day when he decides to put away his clubs and spend more time at his suburban Kansas City, Mo., home, but right now he says the juices flow too much to stop playing any time soon.
"I like to compete," he said. "I still like to beat everybody. I like to hit quality shots when it means something, make that shot when the chips are down. I still get satisfaction out of doing that."
Watson did just that at last year's tournament. He came from behind to defeat Andy Bean and Jay Haas by a shot thanks to some key chips and putts on the back nine. He had been 0-for-93 in Florida.
In order to make it two straight, he'll have to break a trend: no player has done it in the 21-year history of a senior event in Tampa Bay. But while he was three off the cut at the Masters last week after shooting 75-75, Watson has top-25 finishes in his three senior events this season, his best a tie for sixth on March 30 in the Ginn Championship at Palm Coast.
And an encouraging pro-am round on Thursday during which he made eight birdies as well as a good session on the practice range have Watson thinking very positively.
"Any time you win on a golf course, you kind of remember the shots," he said. "When you play a golf course you don't play worth a darn, you never get a very good picture of it. But when you do win, it's easier to win there the next time. It should be because you know what it takes to win."
Watson has won 39 times on the PGA Tour, including five British Opens and one U.S. Open. And though he is closer to 60 than 50, he is still a threat to fellow Champions Tour members.
"He's still beating the same guys out here that he beat on the regular tour," Fuzzy Zoeller said. "He still has the competitiveness. He still hits the ball a long way. He's still a great player. You got all that stuff, you're going to be there."
"I definitely see where Tom Watson would win around here because he's still one of the best ball strikers out here," tour rookie Bernhard Langer added.
Watson said he has long since given up the idea of competing against the "kids" on the PGA Tour. He is right where he belongs, he said, and he has learned to adjust in order to compete on an ever improving 50-and-over tour.
"Getting to be my age, close to 60, you start losing it," Watson said. "Losing your mind is what you first lose. I'm finding that out. But the flexibility, the speed, you start losing that. If you don't play within your capabilities and try to force it, then you're going to fail. You have to learn how to play within your capabilities."
That's what Watson is doing. He knows there will come a time when he no longer can compete, but he hopes it isn't any time soon.
"You bet. Sure, that time will come," he said. "I'll let you know when, but not now."
Rodney Page can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8810.