Although he has twice beaten Jack Nicklaus in head-to-head confrontations this year, Tom Watson refuses to put himself among golf's immortals.
Watson, winner of five tournaments this year - the Crosby, San Diego, Masters, Western Open and British Open - played his first practice round today at chilly (53 degrees) Pebble Beach in a shroud of mist that never turned into the rain so fervently desired here.
The 27-year-old psychology graduate of Stanford has been nursing a bad cold all week but he insisted that it wouldn't bother him in the PGA tournament starting here Thursday. Watson has won $274.173 this year and twic hurled back Nicklaus' challenges - in the Masters and the British Open.
"I'm not the best," Watson said. "Maybe this year I played better golf, but I can't honestly consider myself the best. Nicklaus, Le Trevino and Johnny Miller aren't through yet. To be considered in the class of Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer, one must have a series of at least 10 years of top proficiency - and one must maintain that proficiency without letting down.
"So I've had one good year. To be considered in the super class, one must have consistency. There are certain satisfactions in what I've accomplished. I've achieved a plateau but I'm going to have to work a lot harder. Hopefully, this is a start."
Watson says that he constantly is asked if twice fending off Nicklaus was the reason for his good year.
"For one thing," he answered, "I shut up all this nonsense about choking when I won the Masters and the British Open. I played the master (Nicklaus) head to head and beat him twice. To beat Jack in the British Open was a great feeling and a sense of accomplishment. But I wasn't playing only against him. I was playing the rest of the field.
"People tell me that he confrontation with Nicklaus must have been the greatest golf match of all time. How do I know?I was in it. There were two different feelings in beating Nicklaus in the Masters and in the British Open. The 1977 British Open was a greater accomplishment for me than the first one I won in 1975. This time, I was right in the thick of the tournament for four rounds.
"But, again, I want to stress that Nicklaus has gained his place over a long period of time - 17 years. Nobody will approach his record. I won't be on the tour that long. I hope I can make my mark. If not, I'm going to give it a hell of a try."
Watson has been deluged with business offers this year. "Some," he grinned, "are a little unusual. For instance, played an exhibition in Detroit and a guy wanted to sell me a golf course for $4 million.
"We have a lot more involvements with other people; I'm referring to my wife, Linda, and me. We're not all that interested in making so much money we lose track of each other, Linda is very much No. 1 in my life. We're trying to smell the flowers as we go along."
Watson seems always to have problems keeping his clubs with him. Last year, playing in the PGA at Congressional, his tools were lost and he had to skip a practice round before they were found.
On Monday, Watson played an exhibition in Northern Michigan and then went to Detroit for his trip here.
"It was typical Watson luck," he said. "We had a real short connection to Detroit and my golf clubs didn't get on the plane. They wound up in New York at LaGuardia. But everything turned out all right. They shipped my clubs from New York to Pebble Beach."
The rough around the Pebble Beach greens is high and apparently has been well-watered, despite the drought, along with the greens.
"It's a lot like Congressional was last year," Watson observed. "When the rough is high like that near the green, the ball won't go as far if you miss a green. On the other hand, there are terrible lies beyond the rough. There will be a lot of shots in this tournament that will make the golfers feel foolish, such as where the ball will be sinking in the cracks. But you can't play winter rules in the PGA, no way."
Watson was asked if everything might have been different if he had lost to Nicklaus twice instead of winning. Would he have dreamed of what could have been?
"I don't dream about defeats," he said, "I dream about victories."