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Tom Watson, at 60, not settling for just being an inspiration at the Masters

Tom Watson, the third-oldest player to make the cut at the Masters, greets members on the first tee in the second round.

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Tom Watson, the third-oldest player to make the cut at the Masters, greets members on the first tee in the second round.

AUGUSTA, Ga.

After all of the years, after all of the disappointments, he had finally survived the cut again. Given that, perhaps you expected Tom Watson to thrust his fist into the air.

He didn't.

He is finally back on a Masters' leaderboard, under par and in the hunt. Perhaps you might have thought Watson would grin and pronounce himself satisfied.

He isn't.

Around him, his contemporaries were falling off of the leaderboard and landing hard. Watson, on the other hand, has rediscovered success. Perhaps you would expect him to say that is enough for a man his age.

He won't.

And there, you have the best part about Tom Watson. The guy isn't done yet. Let the other legends talk about their past or surrender to their age. As for Watson, he's a little annoyed that he isn't closer to the top of the leader­board. Even at the age of 60, Watson's expectations exceed everyone else's.

Around him, everyone wants to congratulate Watson. He sighs and shakes his head. Others act as if it a surprise that he is 3 under par halfway through the Masters. He wants to talk about the shots that got away. The fans nearby cheer him as if glory is all in the past tense. Watson smiles, but he lets you know that competitive streak inside him is as wide as ever.

And, yeah, he wants this Masters.

Watson stands a few feet beyond the 18th green, fresh off an irritating bogey that ended his second round. Still, he is tied for ninth, five shots off of the lead. It isn't a bad place to be, especially when you consider that Watson had missed the cut 11 of his previous 12 trips to the Masters.

Still, there is a soured-milk look on his face. And don't you love it?

"Yeah, I'm disappointed," Watson said. "I didn't do as well as I could have. (Thursday) I got about as much out of the round as I could have. I got more than I should have. (Friday), I didn't get as much as I should have.

"I'm happy that I'm still there (in contention), but I'm at 3 under rather than 5 under. Going into the weekend, 5 under is a better position."

Would you really expect Watson to act any other way? Remember last year's British Open, when he had a chance to win before losing a playoff to Stewart Cink. The world was thrilled that a man of Watson's years could compete. Watson? He was ticked off that he hadn't pulled out the victory.

That is who Watson is. Even here, where the course looks too long for him, where even Jack Nicklaus has admitted his doubts about Watson, the competitiveness has taken over. Earlier in the week, Watson referred to himself as a long shot. He isn't using that word anymore.

Suddenly, it doesn't matter that Watson is 60, or that his artificial hip aches from the hills, or that irons aren't cooperating. It doesn't matter than only two golfers — Gary Player and Tommy Aaron — have made the Masters cut at a more advanced age, and neither of them was in contention. At 62, Player was 10 strokes off the lead in 1998. At 63, Aaron was 17 out in 2000.

"I still love to compete," Watson said. "I can still get it. On certain courses, I can still get it."

But here? Now? Remember Julius Boros, the oldest man to win a major (the '68 PGA). He was a dozen years younger than Watson. Remember Jack Nicklaus' amazing win in the '86 Masters? He was 14 years younger than Watson.

Did you get a load of how Augusta National took its revenge on its older golfers Friday? Fred Couples bogeyed four of his final five holes to fall from 6 under to 3 under. Sandy Lyle, who shot 67 on Thursday, tumbled to 86 on Friday. Craig Stadler shot 78. Ian Woosnam shot 83.

All of them are younger than Watson. All of them spent the afternoon looking like fogeys making bogeys.

Said Woosnam: "If you start missing a few shots, the course takes over. It says, 'I'm really going to kill you now. I'm going to make sure you don't come back.' Today, I felt like I was hitting a lead ball. I would hit it, and it would go 'phfffth.' "

Said Lyle: "For the first eight or nine holes, I felt like I was playing with a square ball."

Said Couples: "As soon as I get home and lay down, I'll be fine, but right now, I'm tired and p- - - - - off, to be honest. For a while, I felt like I could go from first to worst."

It was that kind of day. And for a while, it seemed as if it could be that way for Watson, too. But he scrambled enough to stay alive. For fans of a certain age, that's going to mean a lot.

He hears from them all the time, Watson does. Since the British, he has become the symbol of raging against the dying of the light.

"It certainly meant a lot to a lot of people after the British Open," Watson said. "A lot of people said, 'You know, I gave up on golf, or I gave up on certain things in life. And you know, Watson. I'm not giving up now. If you can do it, I can do it.' "

And so he golfs on, as if life has given him one final burst of sweetness. His son Michael is caddying for him, for instance, and the other day, Michael dropped to his knees and proposed to his girlfriend on the course.

Yeah, these are good days for Watson. Given everything, perhaps you think it would be enough for him.

It isn't.

Watson still wants more. And bless his competitive little heart for it.

Tom Watson, at 60, not settling for just being an inspiration at the Masters 04/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 9, 2010 11:52pm]

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