SI Vault
He's Back!
June 04, 2007
Senior PGA Winner Denis Watson Picks Up Where He Left Off 23 Years Ago
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 04, 2007

He's Back!

Senior PGA Winner Denis Watson Picks Up Where He Left Off 23 Years Ago

View CoverRead All Articles

Rory Sabbatini Has An Update for Tiger
page G13

Taking Exception to LPGA Exemptions
page G14

The PGA Tour Needs Drug Testing Now
page G16

At the Senior PGA, Denis Watson proved that he's too tough to keep down forever. The Ocean course proved that it's simply too tough, period

When the 1991 Ryder Cup was held on the then new Ocean course on Kiawah Island, S.C., the hotly contested event was billed as the War by the Shore. Last week, when big-time golf finally returned to Kiawah, they could have called the Senior PGA Championship the Gore by the Shore, because the wind-whipped Ocean course absolutely destroyed the over-50 set. "In 44 years of playing this game, all the U.S. Opens and British Opens, I've never played a course this hard," said Tim Simpson, who finished fifth, seven shots behind winner Denis Watson. � Kiawah took no prisoners in that '91 Ryder Cup. Remember the carnage at the dreaded 17th hole, a 197-yard par-3 with a waste area on the left and a huge, frequently visited water hazard in front and on the right? Mark Calcavecchia, among others, certainly does. There was more of the same last week. The 17th yielded one perfect 10--sorry, David Ishii--and 67 double bogeys or worse. Only 22 birdies were made on the hole, which was playing so tough that on Saturday, PGA officials took mercy on the players and moved up the tee, making 17 a more senior-friendly 158 yards.

Because the Pete Dye--designed Ocean course is almost always raked by gusty winds off the Atlantic and has raised greens, acres of waste areas and bunkers so deep that they ought to come with ladders, some players wondered if the course, which was a terrific stage for match play, is suitable for a stroke-play event. (The 2012 PGA Championship is scheduled for Kiawah.) Says one former major champion who wishes to remain anonymous, "It's a combination of a TPC and a links course, with the worst qualities of both. It wasn't designed for wind."

The Ocean course sure is pretty, though, and the Senior PGA was four days of beautiful disasters. The first two rounds should've come with a disclaimer: WARNING! MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR EGO. The average score was 77.265 in round 1. How windy was it? On the two par-5 holes used to measure players' drives, the average tee shot on the 7th, playing downwind, traveled 295 yards. On the 16th, playing into the wind, the average was 225.

On Sunday the tournament turned on the 14th hole, a 194-yard par-3 with a Redan green nearly surrounded by sand. The leader, Eduardo Romero of Argentina, a low-ball hitter who grew up playing in wind, pulled his tee shot into the back of a deep bunker. His ball buried in the steep downslope, which shouldn't happen. Indiana Jones could not have extricated the ball, so Romero did what an alarming number of players had been forced to do last week after hitting into sandy side slopes: take a one-stroke penalty for an unplayable lie. Romero's drop plugged in a sandy lie outside the bunker, then he splashed a shot onto the green--no small feat--and two-putted for the double bogey he knew he'd make the moment his tee shot drifted left. "Very sad, very sad," he said, "but it's O.K. Golf is like this." (Not at most places, El Gato.)

Watson, in the final group with Romero and Nick Price, pured a four-iron to eight feet and made the birdie putt to execute the golf equivalent of the Mongolian Reversal. The three-shot swing vaulted him from a shot back to two ahead, and he held the lead to the end, playing another superb tee shot to the 17th green and officially becoming the winner when Romero's birdie try missed at 18.

Watson finished at nine-under-par 279, and the 51-year-old Zimbabwean's remarkable return to the winner's circle is the feel-good story of the senior tour. I mean, really, we can dispense with the voting. Let's name him the comeback player of the year right now. The victory was Watson's first in 23 years, and it came after an exhausting string of surgeries and rehabs all tracing back to 1985, when he blew out his wrist, elbow and neck by hitting the stump of a tree.

Continue Story
1 2