"I'm seeing a lot of putts drop today, but none of 'em are my husband's." -- Linda Watson

Before he hit galleryite Julie Gann with a tee shot and missed a half-dozen putts whose total length would not span his living room, Tom Watson had a chance today to win more money in eight days than Ben Hogan won in all his tournament life; more money than the entire PGA tour offered its first two years.

"That's really absurb, isn't it?" he said. "I don't care what you say about how much more it costs today, that's absurb."

Well, it is and it isn't. Men have won more than what Watson was shooting for today -- $254,000 -- with one roll of the dice. Boxers have earned much more being knocked senseless and Sinatra gets about that much per note certain weekends.

But Watson was the compelling figure in sport today, because by becoming the first player in a generation to win four straight tournaments he could win more money than almost anyone imagined possible even a few months ago.

Any Tom, Vic or Howard can win $54,000 or so each weekend. But no one ever had a chance at an additional $200,000, which some Texans offered for the man who won both last week's Byron Nelson Classic and this week's Colonial National Invitation.

The odds on winning two in a row?

"Don't know," Watson admitted. "But I do know they come down a lot after you've won the first one."

They climb geometrically, of course, when a Watson tries to win for the fourth straight week. No one since Jackie Burke in 1952 had done anything of the kind on the PGA circuit. And Watson had a splendid chance of accomplishing it -- until he smacked a nine-iron in the water on the 27th hole of the 36-hole final day.

A $200,000 splash, somebody said.

That and assorted other missed shots actually cost Watson $240,800, or the difference between $254,000 had he won and the $13,200 he earned with a fourth-place tie, three shots behind one of his playing partners today, Bruce Lietzke.

This may have been the day the gods of golf decided enough was enough for Watson, because he lost this tournament in most un-Watson like fashion. He misread the break on two birdie putts and missed four par putts of four feet or less.

Finally, Watson was mortal around the greens. Finally, he failed to get up and down from Waco. As his wife Linda said after another birdie chance slipped by, Watson couldn't putt the ball in Steve Martin's mouth today.

It was about time.

For weeks now, Watson had had the hottest putter on tour -- and had been the luckiest player. Just last week Watson holed a 130-yard eight-iron for an eagle, made a 50-foot wedge shot and chipped in from off the green for birdie.

Watson suffered a pinched nerve practicing in the rain Wednesday. He would have been unable to play if Thursday's first round had not been washed out, the first time in 15 years that had happened. And when Watson blasted a sand shot into the cup from 15 feet Friday to save par it appeared he could buy Denton, Tex., with today's check.

Mortality struck him, though. It hit during the morning round, with perhaps 250 fans watching; it hit during the afternoon round, with as many as 40,000 present at times. Two double bogeys were especially costly, once after he hit a seven-iron farther than many hackers hit drivers.

That was on the 12th hole, his third of the morning. He had crushed a drive but the ball landed in a troublesome spot in the fairway, with lost of grass between it and the ground. A flier lie, the pros call it, because they know the ball will sail farther than with the appropriate club for the distance.

How far will it fly cannot be judged. But Watson knew the last place he wanted to be was over the green.

Watson hit the ball over the green.

Watson hit a seven-iron 180 yards -- on the fly.

After failing to invent a shot that had to bounce into a knoll from 75 feet and stop near the pin and three-putting from 30 feet, Watson mumbled what sounded like: "That's the way to get you off the (leader) board."

Watson was six shots behind the leader at one point in the morning round, but just one back when he birdied the eighth hole in the afternoon. Then came the unexpected dunk -- after he pulled his tee shot into the left rough and behind a tree.

"It was a perfect lie, and slightly unhill," he said. "It was 145 yards to the hole." Watson hit it directly on line, buried the stick. But it carried just 138 yards -- and into the water. He bogeyed No. 11 -- but rallied just enough to have a realistic chance of winning until Lietzke put his approach shot on the green at 18.

"I feel disappointed because I didn't play better, not because I didn't win," Watson said."If I'd played well, I'd have been disappointed at not winning."

A few moments later Watson was walking toward his locker in the clubhouse. He gave Don January a playful headlock -- and January, in mock anger, said: h"You blew $200,000, you chokin' SOB."

Watson did second-guess himself on a few putts. Then he considered the pressure of trying to win four in a row and mentioned the astonishing fact that if he had won he still would have been seven behind the PGA record.

In 1945, Byron Nelson won 11 straight events.

"Incredible," Watson called it, correctly, and added: "That's a record that'll never be touched."

In total, Nelson earned $30,200 for the 11 victories. Second place here was worth $32,400. Watson was anxious to apply present finances to Nelson's history.

"He won 19 times that year," Watson said. "Let's say we use the average winning purse this year of $54,000. He also finished second seven times. Let's assume this year's average second place of $32,000. He also was third three times.

"Now then. If somebody did that this year, he'd win about $1.4 million. Think about that."

With more than seven months left this season, Watson has won pocket change of $313,725.