Get me the cops. I want to say Tom Watson didn't do it.Somebody in the trees stole Craig Stadler's golf ball out of the rough on the 18th hole. Watson did confess, at day's end, "I stole a good round." But his theft consisted of making putts from the edges of the world. As much as he might have liked to steal Stadler's ball -- better a burglar take the magician's clubs -- Watson has an alibi. He was drying his hair.

Just 10 minutes before the brash daylight robbery at Congressional Country Club, Watson stood under a hair dryer in the locker room.

"Made another birdie?" Watson called out to reporters waiting to hear how he had moved from seven strokes behind to within three with two holes to play. However brilliantly Stadler played, and he was magic indeed, the spark of life came to this Kemper Open only at Watson's insistence. With five birdies in the middle 11 holes, Watson, to quote playing partner D. A. Weibring, "was smelling victory."

So challenged by the world's best player, Stadler answered from his spot four holes behind by making birdies on the 13th and 14th holes. Those birdies, Watson knew about before he took his 67 to the hair dryer, where he heard the news that now he was seven shots behind, not six.

"A member told me in the shower," Watson said, whispering. "They don't like it that somebody's 11 under here."

Well, Watson didn't much like it, either, because he came here this week believing an even-par 280 could win. He thought four-under, as his work came out, would be a cinch.

"I think this course is a little tougher than 11 under," Watson said, adding with a laugh, "That guy's smoking something funny." Lest he be misunderstood, Watson quickly said Stadler's sensational play all week on a great golf course will make "Craig feel pretty good going into the U.S. Open in three weeks."

By the time Stadler's ball was purloined from the trees, Watson was leaving the locker room with his clubs slung over his shoulder. The circus moves to Atlanta next week, and Watson will be there, searching for the "swing key" that he said was missing here.

It is difficult to understand how a fellow shoots 67 the last day for a 276 total and a $35,200 share of second place -- and then says he didn't have the "swing key" necessary to be the kind of player he ought to be. If a grade of 100 is perfect golf, Watson said, he figures he ought to be at 60. Here, he gave himself a failing grade. s

"Thirty percent," said this year's Masters champion, this year's leading money winner, every year's boldest competitor. "Maybe 25 percent."

Without that mysterious swing key -- a single thought, really, that in repetition makes the swing happen the same way every time -- to make him the perfect player, Watson settled for being simply outrageous.

He made a birdie at the fifth hole with a 20-foot putt.

He birdied the seventh with a 30-footer.

He birdied the eighth by holing a bunker shot.

He birdied the 11th from 10 feet.

He birdied the 15th from three feet.

And he was, on the 16th tee, only three shots out of the lead.

Stadler had made all pars, the Kemper scoreboards showing a string of red 8s.

"I had a feeling I might be able to catch him," said Watson, who, with victory at stake, believes he could make birdie from the craters of the moon. "But the way I was playing today, Craig would have had to make mistakes and come back to me. I wasn't strong enough today to make all birdies. . . Craig had all those 8s."

The story of Watson's round was written on the first nine holes, where after his long birdie putts at the fifth and seventh holes he hit an ugly drive at the eighth and followed it by dumping the bad-lie second into a sand trap near the green.

From the bunker, Watson knocked out a shot that struck the flagpole and slithered straight down it into the cup.

Then a bad second shot at the 602-yard ninth put Watson far down a ridge to the right, out of sight of the thousands of people waiting to see him arrive near the clubhouse.

He didn't come all this way to lay up. Not this Watson, so long libeled as a spineless choker when in fact he has the brass of a second-story man. With his wedge from jail, Watson thought to throw a shot over 100-foot tall trees. He caught it a shade thin, causing the ball to clatter off the treetops.

It fell into view. When it might have fallen into quicksand or into an alligator's mouth -- or into whatever evils lurk in that scary ravine out front of the ninth hole -- Watson's bold shot landed in the fairway.

And from there, he simply wedged it 20 feet past the hole.

And sank the putt. An easy par.

At four under par and four strokes behind as he came to his second shot at the par-five 15th, Watson took the driver out of his bag.

The 15th is 554 yards long. Watson was 265 yards from the front edge. If he were to win this thing, he needed a birdie.

"I'm going to wait," Watson told Weibring, meaning he would wait until the group ahead would leave the green before he hit his second shot.

"I figured you would," Weibring said.

With the driver off the fairway, Watson screamed his second within five yards of the green. A wedge to three feet gave him the necessary birdie.

If Stadler should stumble a bit, Watson had a chance with another birdie.

But he couldn't get it close enough at the par-three 16th. Then, at 17, with a 20-footer for birdie, Watson was so intent on rolling the ball strongly that -- ohmigod! -- "That S.O.B. went by the hole eight feet." And Watson missed the comebacker. By then, Stadler had interrupted his march of 8s by making not a bogey but a birdie at the 13th, going to nine under, five ahead of everybody.

The good fight was over.