The left-hander may have triumphed at Augusta National twice in three years but it was the one in between, the 2013 Masters won by Adam Scott, which taught him most about how to handle being the centre of attention.
“I don’t have any pressure. I’ve already got two [green] jackets,” said Watson when looking ahead to the first major of this year. At only 25, McIlroy is seeking to complete a grand slam of major championships and therefore enter golfing folklore. Watson is a serious rival with that bid in mind, and with regards to the p-word, the world No2 has thoughts of his own.
“If you were just looking at me and McIlroy, I would say McIlroy,” said the American when asked as to which player was under more pressure. “Not that he’s under pressure, I don’t call it pressure at all for McIlroy. I call it as an accomplishment he’s trying to do. But he’s so young, he’s going to have year after year after year to try to do this, to win a grand slam.
“If it was the other way around, all the pressure would be on me because who doesn’t want to win a grand slam? If I ever had a chance to win a grand slam, what a thrill that would be and what an honour.”
Watson, 36, added: “At 25 years old I was barely keeping my Tour card. That was my first year on Tour. What a talent he is. So I don’t see it as pressure. He’s got years, he’s got his whole life to try to win the Masters but obviously him personally, he’s going to put pressure on himself. Who doesn’t want to do that? Looking at me and him, I think he would have more pressure than me, because look at the talent he has and the records he could beat when he gets older.”
Watson’s Augusta case does not just lie in a clear course and distance specialism but a knowledge of how to handle all that comes by being the defending champion. Two years ago, he admitted to unease as he finished in a disappointing tie for 50th. “This year I know my routine, I know what I want to do and I know what I need to do,” he said. “Now I know what the champions’ dinner is all about and now I know what the head of the table feels like.”
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