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Another magical round from Tom Watson

Tom Watson’s week began on the 13th green with his son proposing to his girlfriend in an elaborately staged surprise that included the chairman of Augusta National.

The 60-year-old’s day began standing on top of a stool to get a view of a few old friends hitting ceremonial shots off the first tee.

His round began with a pep talk from the groom-to-be, who also happened to be the man carrying his bag.

“Come on dad, let’s go out and play a good round of golf,” Michael Watson told him.

A storybook week deserves a fairytale ending. And who could argue that anyone deserves one more than the man who had one stolen from him last year at Turnberry in a heartbreak heard around the world.

The odds still are it won’t happen here. For now, though, there’s a senior citizen near the top of the leaderboard at the Masters.

“It doesn’t matter what it is right now,” Watson said. “It matters on Sunday. That’s all that matters. Every player in that field knows that.”

But if Turnberry was one for the aged, why couldn’t this week at Augusta National turn into one for the ages?

“It’s a long shot for somebody, still, honestly, of our age to do it,” Watson said. “But still, they can do it.”

If anyone can do it, it’s the gap-toothed wonder who almost gave us one of the great sports stories ever when he came within an easy 2-putt of winning the British Open last year.

He’s a year older, but not much wiser. He still stubbornly believes he can play against the kids.

On this day he played better than almost all of them, and in the process nearly stole the day from Woods.

Watson’s 67 matched his best round ever in the Masters, one that came 20 years ago when he was a much younger man and Augusta National was a much different course. He didn’t make a bogey and was a stroke behind the lead of fellow senior tour player Fred Couples.

All this from a man who hadn’t made the cut here in eight years and shot 83 the last time he teed it up in the Masters. The same man who bemoaned at the British that he was nothing more than a ceremonial player here any more.

The same man who thought his highlight of the week would be watching his son propose amid the flowering azaleas.

“His bride-to-be didn’t know anything about it,” Watson said. “Everybody was in on the scam, including Mr. Payne. From the top down, everybody knew. … and that started the week off very nicely.”

Watson’s day started off nicely, too. He had an early tee time, but he took time out from his warmups to watch Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus hit the kind of ceremonial tee shots he may someday find himself hitting.

Nicklaus and he had staged the famous “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry 33 years ago. Once rivals, they are now friends.

Years can do that, and 37 of them have gone by since Watson first played in the Masters.

“I wanted to see them hit off,” Watson said. “It was a special moment.”

Watson followed a little more than an hour later, but he was playing for real. He got going by holing a 30-footer for birdie on the first hole, made five straight saves from around the green in the middle of the round, and finished with three birdies in his last four holes, including a final one that brought the crowd to its feet around the 18th green.

His son had reason to celebrate, too, and not just because his bride-to-be said yes. It was the first time Michael had been on the bag for anything that counted, and he earned his pay on this day.

“I think a big part of my success today was having my son on the bag,” Watson said. “He said, `Dad, show me. Show me you can still play this golf course.’ You know what? I wanted to show him I can still play the golf course.”

Just how long he can play the course remains to be seen. Watson caught the best end of the conditions, the course was set up for scoring, and he was raring to make a mark.

It’s one thing to post a round no one expected, quite another to post one when people are looking.

Watson himself told Nicklaus at dinner the other night that the course was just too long for him to compete. If his scrambling wasn’t so good in the first round, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

“Watson would be capable,” Nicklaus said before Watson teed off. “Tom himself would say that he would probably have a hard time here because he just can’t hit it far enough.”

Indeed, a third green jacket would seem a stretch. Then again, so would a claret jug last summer, and Watson would have won that had his nerves not suddenly seized up on the final green in regulation.

In a way, he’s still living the dream that was, and so are the people who come to cheer him on.

“I would have to say that there’s been a certain glow about the whole situation, even though I finished second,” Watson said. “And the glow comes from the people who watched it and who have come up to me and have commented to me about what they thought of it. … A lot of them have said, `You know, I’m not too old now. You’ve just proven to me that I’m just not too old.’ “

For at least one day at the Masters, Watson proved it once again.



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