AUGUSTA – Nineteen years ago, Ian Woosnam won the Masters, and with it a lifetime hall pass to Augusta National. Imagine if other sports treated its former champions like this tournament. The Chicago Cubs would be a World Series staple since 1908.
There’s a problem with this tradition. What it carries in charm, it often makes up for in utter humiliation. The old-guy thing loses its cuteness when a scorecard is covered with lime green numbers. After shooting a tournament-worst 20-over 164 over two days, Woosnam said, “This course, if you start missing a few shots, it just takes over.”
Asked to expound on that, Woosnam (52) raised his hands, formed two claws and said, “It’s like, ‘Right, I’m gonna really kill you. I’ll show you not to come back here!’ I’ve got to go now for a beer.”
Finally, an activity he hadn’t outgrown.
It was Day 2 at the Masters. The course swallowed the AARP whole. Fred Couples (50) followed his opening-round 66 with a 75. “As soon as I get home and lay down I’ll be fine,” he said. “But right now I’m tired and [ticked] off.”
Sandy Lyle (52) followed a 69 with an 86. He went from two bogeys on Thursday to five bogeys, four double bogeys and one triple bogey Friday. Then he made some crack about “playing with a square golf ball.” The good news: All of his organs remained intact.
Craig Stadler (56), a Masters champion 28 years ago, was consistent. He shot rounds of 79 and 78. But he found the positive in all of this: “Basic par now for me is a 79. I shot 1 under today. Got a 78 out of it. So I feel pretty good about myself.”
With that old-dude carnage (and humor) as a backdrop, it makes what Tom Watson is accomplishing in his 37th Masters that much more remarkable.
He couldn’t replicate his first-round 67. Like everyone else in the field, he battled stiffer winds and tougher pin placements. His putter: Not quite as steady. But even with Friday’s 74, he’s on the leaderboard at 3 under. At the age of 60.
Watson is only the third 60-something to make the Masters cut, behind Tommy Aaron (63 in 2000) and Gary Player (62 in 1998). The difference is, Watson can still see the leader. Aaron and Player were placed somewhere near Macon.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. When Watson nearly won the British Open last summer, he established himself as the new inspiration for everyone with a Tuesday seniors discount at IHOP.
“A lot of people made reference to the fact that, ‘I gave up on golf’ or, ‘I gave up on certain things in life,’ and, ‘Watson, I’m not giving up now. If you can do it, I can do it,’” he said.
He didn’t love his round Friday, particularly after his day’s sixth bogey on the 18th. But he said, “It was special walking through the crowds in Augusta, very special for me, because I related to a lot of people in the crowd. They were all my age.”
Some, like Woosnam, are starting to wonder if its worth another trip back. Nobody wants to pull a Billy Casper. In 2005, at the age of 73, he shot a round of 34-over 106. The day included five consecutive shots in the water on the 16th hole, when he took a 14. He never turned in his scorecard so, technically, he just “withdrew.” He also never came back to the Masters.
Stadler’s not quite there, but he said, “Feel lousy, didn’t hit it very good and [I'm] a cripple. Not a very good combination around this place.”
Woosnam said he “felt like I was playing with a lead ball. Pffffft. You try to hit it harder and harder, and it just makes you worse. If you’re not playing well and you’re our age, you might as well just forget it. I always said if I shot in the 80s, I’m going to give it up. Next year, if I’m not playing well, I’ll just give the spot to someone else.”
Watson isn’t nearly there. He missed 11 of the past 12 Masters cuts before Friday. But it says something about the man that he isn’t 3 under and “disappointed.”
“Three-under rather than 5 under — I’ve got to do some 100 percent playing in the last two rounds to have a chance,” he said.
He will be paired Saturday with 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman, who is exactly half his age: 30. Out of the way, kid.
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