Often, long after you've won a tournament, there are certain shots you remember that occurred along the way that made it possible . . . like when I chipped in for an eagle on the 14th against (Jack) Newton in the British Open" in 1975, Watson observed yesterday.
Watson had reason to reflect. He had just come in from the gentle hills and terrifying greens of Oakmont Country Club with a two-under-par 69 that, added to his opening-round 67, placed him in a commanding position at 136 to win the 60th PGA Championship, four strokes ahead of his three nearest rivals.
Dave Stockton second to Watson after the first round one shot back faded to 75-143 yesterday. Ben Crenshaw stayed very much in the picture with 71-140, along with Tom Weiskopf and Jode Inman. Weiskopf fashioned a 68. Inman a 69.
Johnny Miller's 72 kept him in contention at 141 five strokes behind Watson while Lee Trevino dropped back to 73-142 with Hubert Green. Jerry Pate, Bobby Nichols and three others at even par.
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer failed to make the cut. Palmer tacked a 74 onto Thursday's 78 for 152. Nicklaus was three under through 11 yesterday only to double bozey the 12th and 18th holes for a 74-153. It marked the first time since the 1968 PGA that Nicklaus had failed to make the cut for a major in event and only the fourth time in his PGA-US. Open-Masters-British Open history.
Washington Lee Elder qualfied for further action with 76-147.
And along the way yesterday Watson made one of those extraordinary shots he is not likely to forget.
The 28-year-old Stanford graduate was fresh from a birdie but only even par for the day and struggling when his five-iron shot on the 453-yard 15th protecting the left side of the green.
"I'd been scrambing. It was 60, maybe 70 feet to the pin. I had the whole green to work with but all I could see was the top of the flag." Watson said later, "I wanted to get it up and over a hill and let it roll down. I was afraid it would go to far, and it took forever to get there, but it slower down and trickled in, right into the center of the cup."
Suddenly, the 77 Masters and British Open champion was five under. And his round was far from finished.
On 16, a par-3, Watson pulled his four-iron shot off to the left.The ball struck a woman in the gallery, "leaving a knot of size of an egg on her arm" as Watson soon saw. But he hit a pitch-and-run to within 20 feet of the pin, sank the putt, and presented the wounded spectator with the ball be'd used to make birdies on 14 and 15.
Then, on 17, Watson drove 280 of the 322 yards to the center of the green and was in perfect position for another birdie, only to flub his pitch into a front trap.
No matter. The leader blasted out 15 feet short and saved par with his putt.
Finally on 18 Watson resorted to more conventional play pounding his drive 10 yards longer than Lee Trevino's down the center and banging a five-iron to within 15 feet. He made that putt too naturally.
"The last four holes, I needed only three putts, and none was less than 15 feet. That tells you something about the kind of round I had," Watson remarked adding: "There was Lee, driving great all day but having trouble with the putter, and I didn't hit the ball very well but scored well. I'll have to play better the last two rounds. Realistically, I can't continue to hit the ball like this and hold up, although everything seems to be rolling my way right now on these greens, which are the fastest we play on all year. My putter's been golden."
Perhaps equally important is the fact that Watson continued to play aggressively over a demanding course that has intimidated most of the field. He did not become the least bit conservative in his approach after Thursday's 67. If he continues to charge, while others wait, a third major title will virtually be his by nightfall.
Watson obviously is in the driver's seat. He needs only to get his driver straightened out a bit.
Weiskopf's 67 was the day's best performance. It included seven birdies and prompted the long, lean veteran from Ohio to become a little ecstatic about the course.
"It protects the good players, which is what the major-championship courses are supposed to do," Weiskopf volunteered. "There's variety here. No one is becoming bored with one 440 (yard, par-4) after another. The groups that played late yesterday and early today did enjoy a big advantage, however. The rain yesterday made the course soft and susceptible to scoring again today. We had the best greens to work with again."
Inman, one of the few players on the PGA Tour to wear glasses, carded his 63 despite a pain in his left hand caused by a cyst. "It'll probably have to be taken out this winter," the personable player from Clover, S.C., informed. "I was flinching, because of it, hitting the ball left, when I usually hit it right.
"It never fails. When you play injured you mess something up in your swing." Inman added. "You should take time off but none of us is smart enough to do that. We begin to compensate and after a few weeks we can't believe what we've done to our swing."
Inman's swing was sound enough to produce four birdies against one bogey.
Miller posted a 72 to stay in contention, yet sounded as though his rejuvenated game was still disappointing.
"You guys will know when I'm back," he said. I'm the only guy who's so unsure of himself he's tired 20 different things out there. I'm my own worst enemy, piddling aroundin with my swing . . . This game is too tough. If someone had told me it was this tough I might have tried tennis."