Putter problem shocked Watson

February 09, 1994|By Fred Robledo | Fred Robledo,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Tom Watson found himself in a greenside bunker yesterday during a practice round at Riviera Country Club, site of the $1 million Nissan Los Angeles Open that gets under way tomorrow.

He holed out from 60 feet, prompting his caddy, Bruce Edwards, to say: "Now you do it."

It was one hole too late for such a dramatic shot.

It would have been nice to have won with this kind of flair last Sunday, but bunkers weren't his main obstacle in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. It was a different problem.

Watson had put himself in position to win with some excellent ball-striking and fine putting for most of the 72 holes over the three Monterey Peninsula courses.

He had the right guy on the ropes -- Johnny Miller, a 46-year-old player who rarely practiced and was more comfortable working in a TV tower. He had the right course -- Pebble Beach, site of his 1982 U.S. Open victory.

And he had a two-stroke lead with five holes to play.

L But he had the wrong club in his hands. His untrusty putter.

The putter that won him five British Opens, two Masters and one U.S. Open couldn't get anything right on the last three greens. Watson three-putted from 10 feet at the 16th, three-putted the 17th and left an eight-foot birdie putt short on the final hole.

"Yes, it was disappointing," Watson admitted. "It was a setback, throwing it away like I did."

But more surprising than throwing it away was that Johnny Miller was there to pick up the victory.

"It was surprising," Watson said, "but you have to remember something. Johnny Miller has always had tremendous talent. He knows how to play Pebble Beach and there was no reason for him to be nervous. He had nothing to lose. He was there to have fun and he did."

Watson's last victory came in 1987 when he won the Nabisco Championship, ending a three-year drought.

Although he hasn't finished higher than 39th on the money list in the past seven years, Watson did see some improvement in his play last year.

He tied for fifth in the U.S. Open at Baltusrol and was fifth in the PGA Championship, the only major that has eluded him, at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Last March, he closed with a 68-69 to finish 10th in the Players Championship at Ponte Vedra, Fla.

Watson has been striking the ball so well, he said last week that he was certain he was going to win a tournament this year.

Watson considers Riviera a ball-striker's course, and that's what he is doing well right now.

"You also have to make some putts," he said, "but before you make them, you have to put yourself in position."

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