A decade ago, five-time British Open Champion Tom Watson was one of the headline acts on his last visit to this part of the world for the Australian Masters and we questioned, at his then age of 53, if his appearance was purely ceremonial.
He bristled at the suggestion. “What am I? 44-1. I’d be worth a few dollars,” he said with a smile. Well, actually he was paying $51, but those who took his advice did their money. With rounds of 73-77-70-74 he finished tied 46th behind Peter Lonard, who beat Gavin Coles and Adam Scott in a play-off.
Now, the 63-year-old Watson will surely be asked the same question when he arrives for the Australian Open at The Lakes in early December.
Almost certainly appearance money has changed hands, so is Golf Australia banking on the nostalgia factor or can he genuinely contend for the title he won at Royal Melbourne back in 1984? He would be prohibitive odds to make the cut, and rightfully so.
Three years ago, at Turnberry, Watson nearly won a sixth British Open to equal the legendary Harry Vardon. He missed a three-metre putt on the 72nd hole and was then beaten in a four-hole play-off by Stewart Cink. This year at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s he made his 35th cut in the open but eventually finished tied 77th.
At The Lakes, I would not dismiss him from calculations. His swing is as sweet as ever and the course measures 6264 metres, far shorter than championship layouts these days, so Watson would not be seriously disadvantaged against the younger brigade.
So, call his visit ceremonial at your peril and also marvel at an ageless, gracious champion of the past, maybe even the present.
The drip feed of player announcements for our major tournaments this summer has started with last year’s US Masters winner, South African Charl Schwartzel, and American Jason Dufner announced for the $2 million Perth International at Lake Karrinyup next month, and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell and defending champion Ian Poulter confirmed for the Australian Masters. Adam Scott is playing in Perth plus at the Masters and the Open, while Greg Chalmers is defending both the Open and PGA, events that Geoff Ogilvy will also contest. Greg Norman has played the Open for the past three years as part of his contract with Destination NSW and while his association with the state government’s tourism arm continues, he will not be playing in the Open, but rather the Shark Shootout in the US due to a clash of dates. Norman will, though, be at Coolum for the PGA Championship.
THE $100 MILLION MAN
The first cheque Jack Nicklaus ever won as a professional golfer, $33.33 for tied 50th in the 1962 Los Angeles Open, was never cashed and is mounted in a display case in the Jack Nicklaus Museum in Columbus, Ohio, but apparently Tiger Woods didn’t keep his first pay cheque for posterity. It was for tied 60th in the Greater Milwaukee Open in September 1996 and how his fortune has amassed since then. Last weekend, Woods finished tied third behind Rory McIlroy in the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston and his cheque for $US544,000 ($526,375) took him past the $US100 million mark. The PGA Tour stats department tells us it took Woods 277 tournaments to accumulate that amount, averaging $US362,276 in each event, while Sam Snead who won 82 tournaments, eight more that Woods’s 74, collected a total of $US820,000 in his career that spanned from 1937 until 1979.
Next week is the final women’s major of the year, the Women’s British Open at Royal Liverpool, and seven Australians are exempt – Karrie Webb, Katherine Hull, Rebecca Artis, Stacey Keating, Karen Lunn, Sarah-Jane Smith and Lindsey Wright. If an Australian doesn’t win, and that is looking at it parochially, may it be two who we’d regard as honorary Aussies – Laura Davies, who seems to regard our country as a second home, or 15-year-old Kiwi Lydia Ko, who just a few weeks ago became the youngest winner of an LPGA event.
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