-- He hasn't won this season, his shoulder strength remains an issue, and he is comparing himself to a Yugo. Also, of course, his beloved Kansas City Royals are in awful shape.

So it hasn't been the best of summers for Tom Watson, especially coming off a season in which he was Champions Tour player of the year and won two major titles. But Watson, who tees off at 8:55 on Thursday morning in the U.S. Senior Open at Bellerive Country Club, is not complaining.

"Frustration? There's not a whole heck of a lot I can do," he said Wednesday. "I don't have the strength in the arm. I've just got to build it back. I do exercises to get it stronger.

"The doctors don't know how long it will take to get to full strength. The good thing is I will regain my strength."

Watson has had weakness in his right triceps, which doctors said was the byproduct of a pinched nerve in his neck. Watson acknowledged earlier this summer that, after that diagnosis, he was relieved.

"You bet I was -- to know it wasn't ALS," he said.

It's understandable, obviously, why that terror would have preyed on his mind. Watson's longtime caddie, Bruce Edwards, died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in April after learning he had the disease in January 2003.

Some have wondered whether perhaps Watson's results this year have been affected by Edwards's death. Watson isn't up for such speculation.

"It affects you from the standpoint that he was a great caddie and had an ease about him on the golf course," Watson said. "Jeff Burrell, who caddies for me right now, is not the same on the golf course as Bruce, but he's still got a lot to contribute and it's not that much different. I miss [Edwards] as a friend, but I can't judge how it's affected my game."

What he can evaluate is how the shoulder problem has affected him.

"I'm better than I was a month ago," he said. "I just don't have the horsepower in that right arm. It's a Yugo vs. a Vette, you might say. No, that's stretching it at my age. Maybe a Mercury Marquis."

Still, Watson thinks he can be the "little engine that could" at this event.

"In practice rounds, I've hit some quality shots," he said. "I still feel a bit weak at times with the longer swings and shots out of the rough. And I actually feel a little bit weak with putting, of all things.

"So it's going to be a challenge for me to compete this week. But I'm not considering myself out of it by any means."

Watson, 54, has played in eight previous tournaments this season on the Champions Tour, with four top-10 finishes. He planned for this event to be his fourth major in a row, counting one from the PGA Tour: the British Open. But Watson had to skip the Ford Senior Players Championship and the British to be strong enough for the Senior British Open, which was last week in Northern Ireland.

Watson, the defending champion of that event, finished tied for 22nd.

"I hadn't played for a while, really hadn't hit very many golf balls," he said. "I had hoped I could get the swing in some sort of groove, and it seems like I'm in a much better groove this week. I feel some quiet optimism going into the first round because of the changes I've made in my driving and putting from last week."

Watson should be upbeat, considering he's played well in all four of his previous appearances in the Senior Open. He tied for 10th in 2000 and for 16th in 2001. He's been runner-up the last two years. In 2002, he lost in a five-hole playoff to Don Pooley. It was a matchup that on that day, Gary Player said, "Was as good as Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. It was so spectacular."

Last year, Watson led after the first round of the Senior Open with a 66 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. He trailed Vicente Fernandez by one stroke after two rounds and Bruce Lietzke by four after three rounds.

Lietzke faltered a bit on the final day, shooting a 73, but Watson's 71 wasn't enough to overtake him. And this title is something that would mean a lot to Watson, who has eight PGA Tour majors to his credit.

"I can tell you how to finish second in this thing," Watson said, with a rueful smile. "I really do want this tournament. Out here on the old guys' tour, we have two really serious championships: the Senior PGA Championship and the Senior Open. I think it makes a difference winning one of those two."

"I'm not considering myself out of it by any means," 54-year-old Tom Watson said of U.S. Senior Open.