Loren Roberts was a little hesitant to acknowledge it, but when he watched the British Open slip from Tom Watson's grasp earlier this summer, he got a little weepy.
"I saw him the next day, and I told him, 'I shed a tear, Tom. I got a little blubbery for you.' " Roberts said. "He looks at me and he goes, 'Oh, come on. I've already moved on. Let's get over it and go play.' That's what's so great about him."
Roberts' story is a simple but perfect illustration of how at peace Watson is these days. To come so close to winning a major championship at age 59 the way Watson did at Turnberry - missing a short par putt on the 72nd hole and eventually losing in a playoff to Stewart Cink- would have broken most golfers. But for Watson, it was just another reminder that he can still play the game he loves remarkably well at times. He swings the same, smiles the same and still loves the thrill of competition.
This week at the Senior Players Championship at Baltimore Country Club's Five Farms course, Watson has been as sharp as ever, perhaps never more so than Saturday's flawless third round when he shot a bogey-free 64, tied for the best round of the day, to get to 12-under-par.
He enters today's final round with a four-shot lead over Roberts, John Cook and Mark Wiebe - tied for second at 8-under-par - and if he plays anything close to the way he's played the first three days, he'll become the oldest major winner in the history of the Champions Tour at 60 years old. As much as his contemporaries want to win, they can't help but feel a little bit in awe of his game this week.
"I've always loved his game," said Roberts, who shot a 65 on Saturday and still lost ground on the leader board. "He's just so positive. He looks at his yardage, grabs a club, pulls it back and, Wham! He just goes. He never second-guesses himself. It's so good to play that way. I just enjoy watching him. He hits it so solid, it's just a pleasure to play with him."
Cook, who also shot a third-round 65 and leads the field in putting this week, seemed to realize what a difficult challenge it will be to catch Watson when he glanced at a leader board after his round.
"Boy, spotting Tom Watson four shots is a pretty tall order," Cook said.
Good scores weren't hard to come by on Saturday, thanks to near-perfect weather. The players battled cool weather and wind the first two rounds, but the sun was shining and the ball was flying straight and true in the third round. Normally, Watson thrives in bad weather, but he sent a message to the field on the very first hole that he planned to enjoy the sun, hitting his approach inside six feet with a 9-iron, then drilling the uphill putt.
It was a preview of what was to come. Watson birdied the fifth hole (knocking a pitching wedge inside 12 feet), then the ninth (an 8-iron inside three feet), then the 10th (a pitching wedge to four inches). At that point, even Roberts, Cook and Wiebe, despite their excellent rounds, were struggling to stay with him.
"Those are the type of birdies you can make on this golf course," Watson said. "The short, little ones."
After a beautiful save from the bunker on 11, Watson continued his charge with a birdie at the 14th hole (sticking a perfect 6-iron to inside 10 feet). He then made an incredible birdie on the difficult 17th, despite missing the fairway after a mediocre drive. With the ball above his feet, he took out a 5-iron, took one smooth practice swing, then blasted it onto the green, where it rolled to eight feet short of the pin. He drilled the putt right in the center.
The most remarkable thing about Watson's round was, as low as it was, it was almost two or three shots lower.
"I left a lot of putts dead in the heart of the cup short today," Watson said. "I can think of four. It could have been a low, low round today."
Watson was so relaxed throughout the round, he and Wiebe chatted about college football as they walked up the 12th fairway, discussing whether Florida quarterback Tim Tebow will be ready to return, and the prospects this year for Nebraska and Kansas, two teams Watson grew up rooting for.
"I'm not a chatty Tommy, but I like people," Watson said. "We have our conversations, but we're out there to do our deal, to play our best and concentrate on that."
So how does the field attempt to catch Watson? Neither Roberts nor Cook seemed to have a great answer. Roberts won this tournament in 2007, beating Watson by six shots on the final day after a brilliant front nine.
"You're going to have to get off to a quick start," Roberts said. "The first six holes, you can make some noise. That's what I did two years ago, and I would imagine I'll have to do the same to get into the race [today]. But he's going to be tough to catch because he's hitting it so good."
Hoping the wind will return won't do much good either, Cook said. Not when Watson is considered one of the great bad-weather ball strikers of all time.
"It's kind of like pick your poison," Cook said. "Tom is such a good ball striker. When you win five British Opens, I'd categorize that as a pretty good wind player."
Watson got a big grin on his face when asked whether he'd like to see the sun again.
"I'd like to see it blow a little bit," he said. "As the Scots say, 'A day without wind is a day ner for golf.' "
At a glance
What:: Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship
Where:: Baltimore Country Club Five Farms
When:: Today, final round
TV:: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., chs. 11, 4
Tee times and updates: : Available at baltimoresun.com/golf
Ticket and parking information: : Call 410-853-7064 or go to pgatour.com/tournaments/s507