Why Watson owes rejuvenation to his caddie

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The Independent Online
What Tom Watson and Greg Norman have in common is that both left Augusta National in April with their reputations damaged and their egos not so much bruised as lacerated. Watson took five putts on the par- three 16th on Friday and missed the half-way cut at the Masters by a stroke; at the same hole in the final round Norman hooked it into the lake en route to a huge collapse against Nick Faldo who saw a six-stroke deficit turn into a five-stroke victory.

Yesterday Norman said it made no difference to him whether he was the "hunter or the hunted" on the golf course. Haunted might have been a better word. "I've scrutinised what happened with a fine toothcomb and basically I played two bad shots. That's all. It's water under the dam. I hope I have a six- shot lead on Sunday."

Norman said he had not given the US Open, which starts here tomorrow, much thought. Watson, though, said: "I can't wait." The 46-year-old from Kansas City has been thinking about nothing else since winning the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, Columbus nine days ago. "God, it feels so good to win again," Watson said.

It ended a nine-year drought, a drought that left Watson parched for 141 tournaments. The winner of eight major championships, Watson had been the best in the business. Acting on a suggestion from Jack Nicklaus, following the Ryder Cup at Walton Heath, Surrey in 1981, Watson changed his swing. From tee to green he remained the purest striker of a golf ball but then something strange happened to him when he walked on to the putting surface. He could not putt.

More accurately, he could not putt from two, three or four feet. Watson had the yips, a mental condition that manifests itself when a player stands over a short putt. The eyes glaze, the mouth goes dry and the arms produce an involuntary jerk and the condition is made the worse by the crowd, who let out a noise that signifies both shock and sympathy. Watson had lost his nerve. It had happened to Bernhard Langer, another major winner, but whereas the German fought the affliction with a grotesque putting stroke, Watson continued to suffer.

On 34 occasions he was in contention, within five shots of the lead going into the final round, and every time he reached the green he behaved as if he had an allergy to the hole. In 1994 he was on the threshold of winning the first three majors and in each of them he shot 74 in the final round. In the Open at Turnberry that year he had the lead on the front nine but retreated with consecutive double-bogeys. "That was my most discouraging moment," he said. "The putter felt like an anvil."

At the Memorial perhaps it felt more like a hammer. In a practice round at the course that Nicklaus built, Watson was in a foul mood. After hooking a drive into rough at the 18th, he remarked to his caddie, Bruce Edwards: "I hate this game." Edwards rebuked him. "Don't ever say that. Remember all your success, what the game means to you. I told him to think about his dad. Something just clicked after that." The week before, Watson's father, Ray, had been taken to hospital with a suspected stroke.

Going into the Memorial, Watson was fourth on the US Tour in hitting greens in regulation and 133rd in putts per round. Watson recorded rounds of 70, 68 and 66 at Muirfield Village and held a one-stroke lead over Ernie Els. Norman, incidentally, had missed the cut. Would Watson hold on this time or would his suspect stroke destroy him on the greens? People held their heads in their hands when Watson took three putts at the first. He missed a two-footer and missed it so badly the ball did not even touch the hole. He did not have another putting lapse until he missed from five feet at the 15th. Els fell back but David Duval posted a 67 and when Watson came to the 18th he led by a stroke. He needed a four for a 71. He drilled a drive down the middle, hit a six-iron to about 15 feet above the hole and rolled in the downhill putt for a birdie three. On every green the crowd had given him a standing ovation. Now other players were the first to congratulate him. Duval said: "If I have to wait for my first victory because Tom Watson wins, then that's fine by me."

Byron Nelson, Watson's mentor, said: "Tom has become such a good driver of the ball, I knew eventually it would raise his confidence back through his irons and down to his putter. It was a victory for the power of a positive mind."

After hurling his hat into the air, Watson embraced Jack Nicklaus, the host at Muirfield Village. "I believe it was the most thrilling win of any I've seen or accomplished in the last 10 years," the Golden Bear said. "It means an awful lot for the game of golf."

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