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Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am: Two-time champion Tom Watson trying to find his footing after hip surgery

LUTZ — Tom Watson broke an 0-for-93 streak in Florida when he won the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in 2007. Then he became the first in the tournament's 21-year history to win back to back.

If he pulls off the three-peat, they might as well retire the trophy.

Watson, 59, is not exactly entering today's opening round with a head of steam. He is working his way back from left hip replacement surgery in October, after years of golf caused sometimes agonizing pain.

Before the surgery, performed by Dr. Joel Matta at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., Watson said, it was "like an Olympic event to put my socks on."

He was in the hospital for 34 hours, said he was able to put weight on the hip almost immediately and after a week was able to move around without a cane.

But it was nearly 10 weeks before he could start hitting golf balls. During his downtime, the Kansas City, Mo., native focused on his course design business and tried to learn Spanish to aid him in his post-competitive career. Tried.

Que pasa? That's about it. But I have until my 60th birthday in September to learn," Watson said of the self-imposed deadline.

After 10 weeks, an antsy Watson started hitting balls. The flexibility was back, without the searing pain he sometimes felt. Things progressed faster than he thought.

"I talked to (Jack) Nicklaus about it and he said he was on crutches for five weeks and then used a cane for another 10 days," Watson said. "That was 10 years ago. I was walking without anything in a week."

He felt good enough to tee it up with Nicklaus in January at the Champions Skins game, but the duo tied for last. He played two more Champions Tour events, the Mitsubishi Championship in Hawaii on Jan. 25 and the Toshiba Classic on March 8. His best finish was a tie for 15th.

Then came the Masters, on the 7,435-yard, par-72 Augusta National course.

The two-time champion followed his opening 74 with 83, his highest score in 36 years playing the year's first major. Worse yet, his hip bothered him for the first time since surgery. Walking the lengthy and hilly course proved to be too much.

"It just popped up," he said. "I don't know why. Didn't hurt me before, doesn't hurt me now. You tell me. I'd like to know. I guess it's to remind me that I had something done there.

"After about 10 weeks, I didn't have any issues at all; I played a couple events and didn't have any issues. I played the Toshiba, didn't have any issues. But then I played Augusta and had some issues. It's still recovery. It's spliced in there, and the body doesn't want it there."

Watson isn't used to struggling. He has won 12 times on the Champions Tour and at least once each year on tour since 1999, except 2004 and 2006. Add his 39 PGA Tour victories, including eight majors, and Watson has enjoyed Hall of Fame success since 1974.

But this year could be different. It will clearly take some time to get used to the new hip. And playing TPC Tampa Bay, one of the tougher courses on the Champions Tour, will make it more difficult.

"I'm not playing very well," Watson said. "I'm not hitting the ball solidly. If you don't hit the ball solidly, then you don't get distance. You don't get distance and you can't get to some of these greens."

Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am: Two-time champion Tom Watson trying to find his footing after hip surgery 04/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 12:26pm]

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