- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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He came away saying, "I've got a swing now that I think can hold up under pressure." What about the reputation? "I expect the questions about choking. If you lead a tournament and don't win, people say you choke. Either I haven't won the right tournaments so far, or I've lost the wrong ones."
Choking had not been a topic around the Watson household. Linda sat under an umbrella on the Augusta National veranda one afternoon and said, "Look, Tommy's won two tournaments this year. He's finished in the top 10 six times. He's the leading money winner. What we talk about is how well he's doing."
The Watsons have more than that to discuss now. They can talk about the fact that Watson thought Nicklaus was taunting him with a gesture before Watson hit his approach shot on 13. Later, Nicklaus explained that he hadn't been waving at Tom, but had been merely acknowledging the applause of the gallery. They can talk about how Tom then hit a two-iron to the green for the birdie he needed to keep pace with Nicklaus. They can talk about the two-iron Watson smacked over the water at the 15th and a chip shot there that had to be close for a birdie—again to keep pace with Nicklaus. And they can, of course, talk about the downhill birdie putt that curled four inches to the left on the 17th, the one that sent Watson into the sky and Nicklaus, up ahead on 18, into the sand.
There were principally two losers of last week's Masters. Not just Nicklaus, but Crenshaw as well. Overlooked in the drama of the Watson-Nicklaus slugging match was the uncharacteristic collapse of Gentle Ben. Crenshaw had played beautifully for three rounds and, if anything, it was Crenshaw the crowd would have bet on to provide the kind of suspense that Watson produced. But with his round barely begun, Ben was out of it. Seven under par at the beginning, he bogeyed the second and third holes and played thereafter as if he were trying only to get out of Nicklaus' way. He shot a horrible 76 on a perfect day for scoring.
Crenshaw said, "I can't explain it. I think what happened is I'd been hitting a controlled hook off the tee during the week, and a couple of my early drives went to the right, and then I started worrying. I'll learn how to play some day."
One thing about Nicklaus. There rarely has been a better winner and probably never has been a more gracious loser. Jack lives for major titles, and here he had shot a 66, despite a closing bogey, and lost another, but he said, "You may remember that in 1975 when I had that battle with Weiskopf and Johnny Miller, I said it was fun. Well, today I lost the battle, but this was fun, too."
Almost as much fun as Watson had. And the most fun for Tom was walking down the 18th fairway and looking up at the green and seeing Nicklaus. "I asked somebody in the gallery what Jack was putting for," Watson said. "They told me a bogey, that he'd been in the bunker."
For those who then saw Watson's smile and his lips move and may have wondered what he said to himself, the exact words were, "Let's go!"
That was it. Let's go—from the guy who usually went the other way.
To the untrained eye the golf course must have looked like it was made of AstroTurf last week. It was so lush, so green. And the dogwoods and azaleas were blooming this time, as if dozens of florists had gone mad. For the competitor, however, it was something else. The greens were slow, as they have been in recent years. More important, they were inconsistent in how they putted. There were naturally those spots where the ball would scoot away into the yonder, but there were also downhill and sidehill putts which would stop short of the cup, and this is not the way Masters greens were intended to be. The result was that none of the golfers could feel confident throughout a whole round, not to mention a whole tournament. Disbelief was the expression on a player's face when a putt would curl this way or that, or speed up, or stop shy of where he had expected it to go. So much for the bad winter and the presence of Poa annua on the putting surfaces. Mostly what this does is add elements of luck to a tournament.