The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 5, 2013

Watson keeping an ‘eye on the kids’

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Tom Watson has seen a lot in his 63 years. He’s had countless battles with the legendary Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, and even as recently as 2009 was an eight-foot putt away from winning the Open Championship.

So it should come as no surprise that when Watson was asked if he hopes to make the cut today at The Greenbrier Classic, his answer was  anything but, “Why not win it?”

Watson finished Thursday with a 68, leaving him in a 17-way tie with players more than 20 years younger than him, such as Bubba Watson, Justin Leonard and Bill Haas.

It’s the competition that keeps Watson going.

“It’s like that old movie ‘Top Gun,’” Watson said. “The instructor tells Maverick, ‘Come on, kid, get back in the saddle and show me what you got.’”

Ryan Palmer, who was a part of Watson’s group, even joked about it during a press conference: “I shot well. I’m tied with a 62-year-old.”

But Watson isn’t letting his age be what stands out about him. It’s his ability on the course.

“My game today was good,” Watson said. “I drove the ball well, tipped the ball well off the tee and hit some quality iron shots. You know, I had a lot of opportunities with the putter that didn’t convert. I felt like it could’ve been a better round.

“It was one of those rounds where you got the best out of it. I left some strokes out there. That’s good, because one of these days, I’ll get all of those strokes out there.”

Watson, the Golf Professional Emeritus at The Greenbrier, wasn’t just there to hopefully win a trophy at the end of the week. He’s on a scouting mission.

Watson will serve as the captain of the 2014 Ryder Cup U.S. team.

“I’m in the scouting mode as Ryder Cup captain. Now I’m watching the youngsters and even the veterans who have been around the team in the past,” he said.

One player in who has caught his eye is up-and-coming American golfer Billy Horschel.

“With the exception of the (octopus) pants  he wore at the U.S. Open, he’s been very impressive,” Watson added. “He’s had several opportunities to play and to win. He’s a strong kid who looks like he has some very good fundamentals. He hasn’t been on the Ryder Cup team, but who knows what’s going to happen in the next 16 months?”

Watson also revealed he will be playing in this year’s PGA Championship as well as the British Open in hopes of scouting even further.

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It’s not often that Watson may not be the most talked about person in his group. It’s even more rare when that person is a caddie.

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton served as the caddie for longtime friend Ryan Palmer. It’s an experience that left quite an impression on Payton, and maybe even a little stars truck.

“It’s pretty interesting when you get a chance to be in Tom Watson’s group for your first round as a caddie,” Payton joked. “But it was good.”

Palmer had a few jokes of his own.

“(Having Payton out there) was like having teaching lessons with a pro,” he said. “I was explaining every shot as I hit it.”

While Payton may be enjoying his time on the golf course,  it’s not a move he sees becoming full-time.

“Absolutely not,” Payton joked about a career change.

“He’d have to take a big pay cut,” Palmer interrupted.

Payton signed a five-year extension with the Saints in January which will make him the highest-paid coach in the league at just over $8 million a season.

— E-mail: jrollins@register-herald.com and follow on twitter at @JDanielRollins

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