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Watson's special victory

Posted: March 17, 2008 12:41 a.m.
Updated: May 18, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Denis Watson waves to cheering spectators on the 10th green after sinking the playoff putt worth $240,000 as winner of the 2008 AT&T Champions Classic tournament at Valencia Country Club.

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Denis Watson's victory of the AT&T Champions Classic Sunday was special.

All of his wins are special.

From where he came - injury and misery - to where he is now is remarkable.

He feels great right now.

But for decades, his golf career was marred by unfortunate circumstances.

Watson was a rising star on the PGA TOUR, hitting his prime in 1984. The native of Zimbabwe won three events that year.

But in 1985, Watson struck a tree stump at the Goodyear Classic in South Africa.

The residual effect nearly ruined his golf career.

He blew out his wrist, elbow and neck and was told he'd never play the game again.

He later had neck surgery and woke up with a head halo because doctors found his injury to be worse than thought.

In 1995, ulnar nerve damage took away the season.

Nine years later, left shoulder surgery took its toll.

"It was extremely difficult," said his wife Susan. "Almost beyond anybody's tolerance. But he worked so hard.

"He always amazed me. He was never angry. He was demoralized, but never angry."

Watson rebounded.

He won twice on the Champions Tour in 2007 and was named rookie of the Year.

He reflected on the last 15 months on the Champions Tour after winning the AT&T Champions Classic Sunday.

His eyes began to water at times while he spoke.

"Words don't do it. It's very emotional for me," Watson said. "It's really incredible. There are guys who've played full careers, they're still competitive and love playing so much and saying how great it is to be able to play and compete at a high level. For me to not be around for so long and come back and finally have my game come out, it's very good."

It's ironic how Watson won Sunday.

It was in comeback fashion.

He really wasn't on the radar previous to the final round.

The 52-year-old was tied for 34th place after a 1-over 73 Friday.

He jumped to a tie for 20th place after a 71 brought him to even for the tournament.

Then he went to the driving range afterward.

"I hit the ball beautifully on the practice tee last night," Watson said. "I thought, 'Well if I could hit it like that, I could really get a score going.'"

Then he began to chip away - immediately.

An eagle on the first hole started it.

But he didn't really start to move forward until he made the turn.

He eagled No. 9, made birdies on 11 and 13, then finished with birdies on 16 and 18.

Certainly an underdog going into a playoff with Brad Bryant and Loren Roberts because of Roberts' body of work, Watson hung in until Bryant exited after the second playoff hole.

It set up a one-on-one match with Roberts, who was playing for redemption.

He lost to Tom Purtzer in a playoff in last year's event.

But a tremendous approach shot that left Watson two feet from the cup was the decider.

His birdie gave him the tournament.

"Sorry to keep everybody here so late," he said as he walked into the media room afterward.

He spoke of exercises and yoga that have helped him to become pain free.

Watson noted his wife's support.

Golf was taken from him.

At times, his attitude was sour.

His wife, a trial lawyer, recently received her master's degree in psychology and has helped him remain positive.

His attitude now couldn't be much better.

"You can't change the continuum of time," he said. "I've had a phenomenal life. I've had a lot of aggravation and you don't know what God has in mind for you. Maybe you're supposed to learn some things.

"If I didn't have the path I've had, I wouldn't be with Susan. I wouldn't have five great kids. It's hard to unring the bell. You have to look back and see all the great things that have happened and the place where I'm at now is where I'm supposed to be and I'm trying really hard to enjoy it."

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