"Was today's round fun?" I asked him on Thursday.
"You know me well enough to know it's no fun for me to come here and shoot 77," he said.
"So you came here expecting to play well?"
"No, I can't play this course at this length," he said.
"So do you enjoy coming and experiencing the Masters?"
"It's no fun for me to come here and shoot 77," he said again.
Watson is a difficult man to pin down. But it seems that he simply believes he can beat age by ignoring it. He knows that Augusta National has changed over the last few years, that 14 of the holes have been lengthened. Trees have been added. Rough—called the second cut in the more civil language of Augusta National—has been added. Watson knows that he can't beat the younger and stronger players.
At the same time, he doesn't know that at all. This is why he was able to come so close to winning the British Open at Turnberry as he approached age 60. And Augusta National can make an old golfer believe even more. No, it's not the same golf course on which Jack Nicklaus won long after everyone had given up on him. But it's still the same overall place. The little 12th hole still makes the golfers' knees shake. The par-5 13th and 15th holes still lead to eagles and disasters. The fairways are still wide, the greens lightning fast, the members still wear green jackets and the women in the gallery still wear bonnets, and the roars that signify great shots still rattle the pines.
"I don't like playing golf for fun," Watson told me once. "Getting four guys together and going out on a sunny day and playing a round of golf. I play for the competition. I need for every shot to matter. I play to be in contention."
Reasonable minds would say that he never will be in contention again at Augusta. Heck, Watson says that. But then he smiles that famous Watson smile that suggests maybe he knows a little something you don't know.