Jack Nicklaus on Tom Watson: "Tom is playing by far the best golf of anyone in the game right now. You'd have to ask him what his goals are, but I think he would agree that his performance in the U.S. Open, British Open, Masters and PGA over the next years will determine his ultimate position in the game. Let's see what happens in the next four or five years. He's one heck of a player, and one heck of a guy. And he's got a good head on his shoulders.
"It's not fair to Tom to compare him to me right now. He came to the tour in a different way than I did. He went through the qualifying school, then had to qualify on Mondays, then had to learn to make the cut, then learn to make money, and then learn how to win. I don't say this because I was able to come out and win immediately. I say it with admiration for how hard he's worked and how he's conducted himself."
Arnold Palmer on Tom Watson:
"I'm ready to hand the crown over to him, and it looks like Jack is, too. Tom's extra cocky and very confident, two very necessary things to becoming a great player."
Miller Barber on Tom Watson:
"I chased the man all week. The closer I got the harder he was to see. There's something intangible about him. I don't know what it is, or how to describe it, but truly great athletes have something that sets them apart, something the rest of us don't get given. Tom Watson has it. He's willing to make the sacrifices you need to make, he's got the drive, the ambition and, Lord knows, the ability. He's on the verge of being one of the game's great ones."
Tom Watson won another golf tournament last week. Of course. He won the Memorial, or the Nicklaus, as some people think of it, at the Muirfield Village course on the pastoral outskirts of Columbus, Ohio. He won it easily, by three strokes over Barber, with rounds of 73, 69, 72 and 71 for a three-under-par total of 285. On that particular golf course, and under the cold, wet, windy and generally horrible conditions that existed throughout the week, his performance was among the most brilliant of 1979. In fact, the three-under-par 69 Watson shot on Friday afternoon during the most miserable weather of all was the finest single round that has been played all year—or in many years, for that matter. That round wrapped up the tournament for him, if not statistically then at least psychologically.
On a day when the average score of the field was 78.75 because the temperature was 45 degrees, the wind was howling at 30 mph and the wind chill factor made it feel like 13 degrees, on a day when every ski cap and pair of warm gloves in Columbus had been purchased, on a day when virtually every player in the field staggered into the clubhouse and slung his rain suit across the room, kicked a table leg and began whimpering about a round of 85, Watson hit 16 greens in regulation, made three birdies and no bogeys. In reality, his 69 was more like nine under par for the day, for that day.
Chi Chi Rodriguez summed it up the best in the locker room. After listening for an hour to the other competitors complaining about the impossible conditions—"This ain't golf" was the theme—Rodriguez got everyone's attention. He said, "Hey, guys, tell me something. How come the best player in the world is leading the tournament?"
It's rather terrifying to dwell on what Watson has been up to lately. Last Sunday's victory was his fourth of the year. He had previously won the Heritage, the Tournament of Champions and the Byron Nelson Classic. He has also been second four times. In fact, Watson has finished sixth or better in 10 out of the 14 events he has entered. With his Memorial paycheck, Watson's earnings for the year have risen to $353,874, which is already the second-highest total ever, second to the $362,429 Watson won last year. And last week was still in the month of May?