Tom Watson ends Masters career in emotional round
Tom Watson got a royal send-off Friday after the two-time Masters champ played his final round at Augusta National Golf Club. It left the hard-nosed Midwesterner in tears.
The 66-year-old Watson, playing in his 43rd and final Masters because, he says, the course is too long for him, received a standing ovation as he walked up the hill to the 18th green to finish off his 6-over-par 78. It left him at 8-over 152 and two shots shy of making the cut.
There to greet him behind the green after he finished was tournament and club Chairman Billy Payne and a number of club members.
The final half-hour of Watson’s Masters career was packed with emotion. Before he hit his approach on No. 17, he turned to his left and looked into the gallery for 20 seconds, taking it all in one last time.
Then, after hitting his approach shot to the back of the green, Watson saw Neil Oxman, who has caddied for him the past 15 years, start walking ahead of him.
“He was going to plow out ahead of me and let me have my glory and I said, ‘No way, you’re walking up the last hole with me,’” Watson said. “He’s been a very close friend and caddie and confidant, but he’s more than that. I told him, ‘I really appreciate what you’ve done for me,’ and I started to tear up. It was special to be able to walk up there with him.”
As they stood on the back of the green before he putted, Watson turned to Oxman.
“He said, ‘I didn’t think I was going to cry,’” Oxman said.
Then Watson hit one of his best putts of the day – a 69-footer, Oxman said – to within 2 feet on the hole, which was cut in the front right of the green. He then tapped in for par.
After his first putt, Watson’s playing partners Lee Westwood and Charley Hoffman removed their hats and clapped as he walked down to mark his ball for the last time.
The reception on the final hole capped a day in which fans showed their appreciation for Watson, who was playing his 134th round at Augusta National.
“It’s 43 weeks of his life here,” Oxman said. “It’s a lot.”
“I’ve been blessed to be able to play here,” Watson said. “I hope I entertained some fans here. I appreciate their applause for me and the way they treated me. There were lots of hats off to Tom today. It was really pretty special.”
“It wasn’t just the moment coming up 18; it was just how much he’s loved here by all the patrons and the players as well,” Westwood said.
Had he made the cut, Watson would have been the oldest to do that. Tommy Aaron holds the record at age 63 in 2000.
“He was grinding,” Oxman said. “He wanted to make the cut. … 66 years old. If he putted today like he putted yesterday …”
Watson was glad to leave the Masters on his own terms.
“I’m grateful for the fact that they allow the past champions to pick the time they say no mas to retire,” he said. “I think that’s really a good thing. I know a few years back, there was some talk about maybe setting an age for retirement, but it didn’t work. I think we know when it’s time to say no mas, and let us make the call. That’s what makes the Masters unique compared to all the other tournaments, all the other majors. It allows the players to make the call. I still think that’s a very special thing about this tournament.”
Oxman is not saying this is Watson’s final major championship. He had already “retired” from the other three, but he could still get in the PGA Championship by winning the Senior PGA and earn a spot in the British Open by winning the Senior British Open.
“He’s always competitive at the Senior British Open and it always gets you back in there,” Oxman said. “He’s had the most amazing career at the Senior British Open.”
Watson isn’t retiring from competitive golf. He still plays on the PGA Tour Champions on occasion.
“Yeah, it’s sad; it’s sad that the era is over,” Watson said. “It’s sad that my era of PGA Tour golf, playing the Masters and others is over, essentially over, playing against the kids. But I still intend to play against the old guys, and I can play. I still feel as if I can play a little bit, and I still like to compete and I’m going to continue to do that, on a limited basis.”
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