Three weeks ago Tom Watson withdrew from the British Open - his favorite event - because his right shoulder was so sore he couldn’t lift his arm above his head. He feared he had a careerthreatening injury.
Today, Watson, 47, will open yet another bid to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus as the only men to achieve golf’s career grand slam - winning all four major tournaments. He has won five British Opens, two Masters and a U.S. Open. Only the PGA Championship is missing from his distinguished resume.
“To me, it would be a great honor to be included in that fivesome,” Watson said Wednesday. “I still feel I’m capable of winning. The victory at the Memorial (in June) confirmed that for me, and I think it’s going to be a little easier to win again for the second part of my career.”
Watson came here last week to play the 10-year-old Nicklaus-designed course on the outskirts of a city hosting its first major golf event. Watson generally liked what he saw, save for the five-inch bluegrass rough he described as “the biggest obstacle on the golf course.”
Most of all, Watson likes the way his shoulder feels and the diagnosis by the specialist he visited in Kansas City during the week of the British Open. Steve Joyce, who also treats some Kansas City Royals, did an MRI exam of Watson’s shoulder and told him there was inflammation, but had no structural damage.
Watson was administered a shot of cortisone and given a series of exercises to strengthen his shoulder.
He said Wednesday that three days after the shot, the pain was gone. He’s been able to practice for most of the past two weeks, working mostly on his iron play, an aspect of the game almost everyone believes will be of vital importance on this course.
“I feel good right now,” Watson said. “I have no problem, especially in the follow-through. It didn’t hurt me on the backswing, but it did hurt on the follow-through. If I had a (swing) like Doug Sanders, then I could have done it… . I’ve been practicing my iron play because I think that’s the key for me to win this golf tournament - to hit a lot of greens.”
Nicklaus played a practice round with Watson on Tuesday and said “if Tom is going to (complete the career grand slam), this is a pretty good golf course for him to do it on. He’s playing well, his win at Memorial (on another Nicklaus-designed course) will give him some confidence. He feels like he can shoot the golf course. If a fellow has that kind of confidence, it’s someone you ought to look at.”
Like most Nicklaus-designed courses, Valhalla has fairly generous fairway landing areas, though some players will keep their drivers in their bags and use long irons or 3-woods off the tees. Anything to avoid the high bluegrass.
The PGA has the strongest field of any of the majors, with 48 of the top 50 players in the world rankings in the final major of the season, including defending champion Steve Elkington of Australia.
He’s considered among the favorites, along with most of the usual names bandied about before these events - Masters champion Nick Faldo, British Open winner Tom Lehman, and even Greg Norman, whose long iron game is ideally suited to this course, especially when the greens are soft.
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