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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 25, 2010

Watson aging gracefully

Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tom Watson, right, beat Fred Couples by one stroke in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship.

CHRIS STEWART | Associated Press

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tom Watson finally won a tournament in Hawai'i after 34 career starts on the PGA and Champions tours.

CHRIS CARLSON | Associated Press

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KAÜ'PÜLEHU-KONA — This time around, age prevailed.

Tom Watson became the 13th oldest player to win on the Champions Tour, birdieing the final two holes yesterday for a one-stroke victory over senior newcomer Fred Couples in the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship.

"This is what I live for in my career — to do what I did today," Watson said. "I don't think I'll have too many more, but I had this one."

The 60-year-old Watson, coming off a win with Jack Nicklaus in the Champions Skins at Ka'anapali, closed with a 7-under 65 to finish at 22-under 194 for his 13th Champions Tour title and his first victory in 34 career starts in Hawai'i on the two tours.

After pushing his drive into the right rough, Watson hit a spectacular second shot with a pitching wedge from 147 yards that rolled 20 feet on the 18th green and stopped 4 feet from the hole.

Couples, who closed with a bogey-free 64, just missed his 15-foot birdie putt to the left on the final hole. Watson calmly sank the winner and waved his cap to the roaring crowd, ending a memorable duel he dubbed "young kid versus old fart."

"It wasn't over until he said it was over," Couples said.

It was a sweet victory for Watson, who made a magical run last year at the British Open before losing to Stewart Cink in a playoff.

Watson didn't want another playoff.

"I didn't win last year. That's how I judge my year," he said. "If I win a golf tournament, it's a success. So I started off the year with a success."

The 39-time PGA Tour winner is the oldest Champions Tour winner since Gil Morgan in the 2007 Wal-mart First-Tee Open at Pebble Beach. Last year, there were no winners older than 55, something Watson early in the week said he hoped to "rectify."

Again, Watson torched the back nine with five birdies. He had six birdies on each of the first two days.

Watson tied Couples for the lead on No. 17 by sinking a 6-foot birdie putt. Watson smiled in front of the biggest gallery to see the event in years with the sun setting over the Pacific.

Couples birdied the par-4 16th for a one-stroke lead over Watson at 21 under. After a big drive, he hit a wedge from 118 yards to 12 feet.

"You dog," Watson told Couples.

Couples didn't seem too upset with the runner-up finish. His first question walking off the green was, "Who won the football game?"

"I had a wonderful time. I think I was 21-under par and didn't win a tournament. That hasn't happened too many times," said Couples, who was trying to become the 16th player to win his Champions Tour debut.

The 15-time PGA Tour winner hasn't hoisted a trophy since the 2003 Shell Houston Open. Last year, he had four top-10 finishes in 16 starts on the regular tour and finished 75th on the money list.

Couples took his first lead by eagling the 566-yard 10th to reach 18 under. He hit an iron from the first cut of rough, setting up his 6-foot putt.

Watson, who birdied the 10th, shook his right fist after holing a 22-foot birdie putt on the par-4 11th that tied Couples for the lead. Watson also went up-and-down to save par on Nos. 8 and 9.

While the fans came to see Couples, Watson may have had a slight home-course advantage.

Watson purchased one of the sprawling homes at Hualālai about a year ago. He was also teammates with the course designer, Nicklaus, a week ago at the Skins Game. They finished with 10 skins and $350,000 for their second victory in four years.

For his victory, Watson takes home $315,000 and a hook-shaped trophy.

Conditions at Hualālai were hazy and near windless for a third straight day.

Michael Allen birdied the final hole for a 66 to finish third at 18 under, a stroke ahead of Tom Lehman (68). Both men played last week in the PGA Tour's Sony Open, with Lehman tying for 16th and Allen tying for 25th.

The 64-year-old Hale Irwin, a two-time champion at Hualālai, closed with a 64 to finish fifth at 14 under.

It was Irwin's second top-10 finish in a row after going 41 straight tournaments without one.

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