Tom Watson, exhibiting the determination that once made him the game's dominant player, ended a winless stretch that lasted more than three years yesterday, in the richest tournament in the history of professional golf.

Watson led start to finish, scrambling to a final-round 2-under-par 68 and a two-stroke victory over Chip Beck in the Nabisco Championships of Golf, the final official event on the PGA Tour this year. Watson finished at 11-under-par 268 at the Oak Hills Country Club course.

"Winning your first tournament is tough. The comeback is tougher," Watson said after he won a battle with quivering nerves and an elite, 30-man field.

It was the 32nd victory of his PGA career -- not including his five British Open titles -- and his first since July 1984, when he won the Western Open.

This victory paid Watson $360,000 from the $2 million purse, plus $24,000 from the $1 million Grand Prix purse, split between players and charities after a year-long points contest. For second, Beck got $216,000 of the tournament money. Greg Norman closed with a 66 for third at 273.

But, said Watson, "The money was never a factor . . . "

With elusive victory in his sights, he said his "nerves took hold" on the back nine, as a four-shot lead evaporated to one. "When I was winning all the time, I'd be expecting to win in that position," said Watson, 37. "Today, I was hoping to win.

"I was nervous. I was pacing, like a leopard in some hunter's gunsights."

He had to make a series of pressure putts -- the kind he has had trouble making during his slump -- over the last few holes. He made a four-foot birdie putt at the par-5 10th and then made par putts at the 12th, 13th and 15th.

But he missed the green and bogeyed 16. Beck, meanwhile, birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to creep within one.

But Watson lofted his tee shot at the par-3 18th within eight feet of the cup, then, in form reminiscent of his glory days, dropped the putt.

"Walking up 18, I'm thinking two things: wondering what kind of putt I have and can I get it down in two," Watson said.

Then he saw the eight-footer. "I'm thinking, 'What the hell are you doing trying to two-putt from eight feet. Knock it in.' "

In a separate drama played out on the same course, Curtis Strange finished last in the field but still claimed the tour's money championship with a record total of $925,941. But the honor he wanted -- player of the year -- eluded him.

That went to Paul Azinger, like Strange a three-time winner this season. The title is based on a complicated points system, and Azinger won it because Strange's 293 total for this event knocked him out of the top 10 in scoring average.

But Azinger was more inclined to celebrate Watson's victory than his own. "He's back," Azinger howled. "He's back."

In the three-year interim, however, Watson said he was a victim of a lack of "desire, talent, putting -- all were tied together. But I never gave up on myself. I knew I'd win."

Then he flashed his famous boyish grin and allowed that ". . . maybe I had some doubts about a year ago."

Then he was called to a telephone. His wife Linda was on the other end.

"Whaddaya think?" Watson said. "We did it. Yeah, we did it."

Centel Classic:

In Tallahassee, Fla., Keith Clearwater won the inaugural $500,000 event -- formerly known as the Tallahassee Open -- at the Killearn Country Club by one stroke over four players and set a record for earnings by a rookie.

Clearwater sank a six-inch par putt on the 18th hole to complete a final-round 1-under-par 71. He completed 72 holes at 10-under-par 278 for his second tour victory of the season. The $90,000 first prize increased Clearwater's earnings to $320,007, breaking the rookie record of $260,536 set by Corey Pavin in 1984.

The 28-year-old Clearwater is the first rookie to win two tournaments since Jerry Pate did it in 1976. His other victory was in the Colonial National Invitation at Fort Worth in May.

Finishing a stroke behind Clearwater at 279 were Bill Glasson, Joey Sindelar, Bob Lohr and Bill Kratzert. Glasson shot 69, Sindelar 72, Lohr 70 and Kratzert 71.

"All I can say is Merry Christmas to Keith," Sindelar said. "I handed it to him a couple times today.


Andy Bean shot a 7-under-par 65 and raced away with a five-stroke victory in the individual part of the $464,000 ABC Cup Japan-U.S. golf match in Tokyo.

In the team event, the nine-man Japanese squad beat the United States by three strokes.

The U.S. team, captained by Hale Irwin, had 548 against Japan's 559 under a formula that counts the eight best scores on each side. The Japanese received a team prize of $103,000, while the U.S. squad received $45,000.

Also in Tokyo, a 14-member U.S. team won eight matches, drew one and lost five for a three-day total of 17.5 points to 10.5 for Japan and won the $260,000 Nichirei 1987 Japan-U.S. women's championship.

The U.S. team won $154,000 for its third consecutive victory in the tournament, and the Japanese, who have won two out of nine tournaments, collected $70,000.