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Senior Tour Ready for Watson's Impact

SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF / THOMAS BONK

July 02, 1999|THOMAS BONK

He turns 50 in two months and two days, so Tom Watson must be pinching himself, wondering how he's going to cart all that money away, the stuff that's just going to fall right at his feet when he starts playing the Senior PGA Tour.

Right? Well, not exactly.

"[Jack] Nicklaus told me when we were talking about the senior tour, he said, 'Tom, these guys can really play out here,' " Watson said. " 'It's not a cakewalk.' "

Maybe not, but chances are pretty good it's going to be something like a money walk for Watson.

The senior tour has not seen anyone the likes of Watson since Arnold Palmer came out--and neither Palmer nor Nicklaus ever really played a full schedule.

In fact, when Watson appears as a full-time player on the senior tour, he could very well be the biggest, most important figure the old-timers have ever had.

Five British Open titles, two Masters championships and one U.S. Open victory, plus 31 other triumphs, automatically elevate Watson to a new level on the senior tour.

On a tour basically devoid of superstars, now that Palmer, Nicklaus and Chi Chi Rodriguez have bit parts and players such as Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan have been dominant, Watson offers a much-needed big-time presence that ought to shake the senior tour out of its corporate hospitality lethargy.

Lanny Wadkins and Tom Kite also turn 50 this year, so Watson is likely to have some competition in the scoop-up-the-money race.

Watson says he will play his first Senior PGA Tour event at the Comfort Classic at Indianapolis, Sept. 10-12.

He wanted to play the week before in his hometown of Kansas City, but his birthday misses the cut-off for entry by three days. He asked Commissioner Tim Finchem about the chances for a waiver, but Finchem said it wouldn't be fair and Watson agreed.

Lee Trevino, with help from Jim Colbert and Dave Stockton, has talked about getting a petition signed to allow Watson to play in his hometown, but that's not likely to go anywhere.

In any event, Watson says he is ready.

"I expect it to be very, very tough to win out there," he said. "I'm going to have to be ready and competitive.

"But I will say, I'm not going out there just to go around the golf courses. I'm not going out there and think it's a walk in the park, either, because it's not. I'm going out there to try to win."

We'll just see how long that takes.

SHE'S A MAJOR PLAYER

Now that Juli Inkster has won her second major in a month, it should be noted that the last LPGA player to win three majors in one year was Pat Bradley in 1986.

Can Inkster win the du Maurier Classic and complete a neat hat trick? With her choice of head wear, better make that the visor trick.

Anyway, the way Inkster is playing, anything seems possible. At 39, she has saved the very best for the last part of her 16-year career.

Consider that in her victories at the U.S. Open and the LPGA Championship, Inkster was a combined 32 under par. In her 14 events this year, she has 11 top-10 finishes.

She also knows how to win in rousing fashion. She closed out the LPGA Championship with an eagle-birdie-birdie finish.

"I hope it brings a lot of focus to women's golf," she said. "I wish not only for me, but for my fellow pros that we get the acknowledgment that I think we deserve."

What Inkster deserves is something else. She's just one point short of automatic entry into the Hall of Fame.

Inkster, by the way, just committed to defend her Diners Club title with partner Dottie Pepper in December at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach.

DON'T GO GENTLE, BEN

Ben Crenshaw was moved to tears while watching a Ryder Cup video during a chat with reporters this week in New York, so what's he going to do when they actually start playing in September?

Crenshaw needs to knock that stuff off or he's going to wind up in the same situation as the losing captains who preceded him. Wadkins and Kite were seen as pushovers.

Crenshaw has tried to position himself as a hard-edged type, which is exactly the correct attitude. He must have realized that too, because he recovered nicely after his eyes misted over during the video love fest.

"This is not a picnic," Crenshaw said of the Ryder Cup. "You can't expect flowers and roses going through this path."

Advice to Crenshaw: If you handle this correctly, you will be laughing afterward, not crying.

ON FURTHER REVIEW . . .

News item: Tiger Woods and IMG ask Nike to change the "billboards" at the end of two Woods TV commercials because the spots look like ads for golf balls and Woods already has a golf ball deal with Titleist.

Reaction: Good news . . . the war is over! Nike switched the "billboards" from a Nike golf logo to its swoosh trademark, accompanied by its 'Just Do It" slogan.

COLIN CANNS HIMSELF

Here's some fallout from Annika Sorenstam's less-than-terrific--13 events, no victories--year: Her caddie is a memory.

That would be Colin Cann, who walked away after Sorenstam's 73 in the first round of the LPGA Championship.

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