As the cheers and applause poured out of the gallery, Tom Watson walked briskly up the fairway to the 18th green on Friday afternoon. He looked toward his right, nodded toward the fans lining the green, and then inspected his own precarious situation here on the final hole at Augusta National.
One day after completing what he termed a “minor miracle” in the first round, Watson was in the sand. The miracles, it seemed, did not last another day at the Masters.
Watson played out the hole and scored a triple bogey, finishing off a 9-over 81. In the moments after the round, Watson smiled at the gallery, soaked in another standing ovation, and walked toward the clubhouse, his Masters over.
“It’s like a furnace,” Watson would say. “Some days it’s hot, some days it’s cold.”
Watson, 65, and playing in his 42nd Masters, had stirred up Augusta National on Thursday, shooting a 1-under 71. It was, in simple terms, a masterful feat. Watson became the oldest man ever to shoot under par at the Masters, and more history was in his grasp. If he stayed around even par for one more day, he would become the oldest man ever to make the cut here in Augusta.
In the moments after Thursday’s round, Watson said he was not fooling himself. On most days, he said, Augusta National is too long for him. There are few holes that he can birdie. On many of the longer par-4s, he is simply looking for a way to scramble and make par.
On Friday, reality beat down the storybook idea of a 65-year-old making the Masters cut. Watson finished the tournament at 8-over par, well off the 2-over cut line and 22 strokes behind leader Jordan Spieth.
“That was the high,” Watson said of Thursday. “The low was today, the way I played. I just didn’t perform today. I didn’t drive like I did yesterday. I didn’t putt like I did yesterday.”
For Watson, the disappointment started on the first hole. Standing over a 6-foot par putt, Watson slid the putt past the hole. He scored a bogey, and proceeded to shoot a 4-over 40 on the front nine. On Thursday, Watson managed four birdies, including a chip-in from the sand on No. 10. On Friday, he bogeyed the 10th hole and spent most of his day in poor position while battling some erratic shots off the tee.
“I pull-hooked a lot of drives, and I didn’t putt well today,” Watson said. “It’s kind of typical.”
Watson, who will be 66 later this year, told The Star before the tournament that this would not be his final Masters. He missed the cut for the fifth straight year, but with a lifetime exemption as a result of two Masters victories, Watson expects to be back next year.
In the moments after his round, Watson stood near the Augusta Clubhouse and reflected on his two days here. At this stage in his career, playing at Augusta National can feel like swinging a golf club while also balancing on a tightrope. There is little margin for error. On Thursday, Watson managed to stay in control. One day later, the course won out.
“I didn’t keep the ball in play off the tee,” Watson said. “I didn’t make the putts that I did yesterday. And that was difference. I don’t go around here making a lot of birdies. I can’t make a lot of birdies, except on the par-5s, and I messed them up as well.”