AUGUSTA, Ga. — The egg-salad sandwich was left in its usual spot, on the 13th tee box, the final hole of Amen Corner at the Masters.
Tom Watson has been doing this on and off for 10 years, ever since that opening-round Thursday in 2004.
It was just after 6:30 a.m. when the news came. Watson, then 54, was in the Augusta National Golf Club’s champions locker room preparing for an 8:44 a.m. tee time.
The night before had been about Bruce, his longtime caddy and friend. Bruce was back home in Florida, suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Friends, colleagues and family had gathered at a Golf Writers Association of America Dinner in Augusta. Both Bruce and Tom had been honored.
Now it was morning, and an attendant had come in the locker room looking for Watson. His wife, Hillary, was at the door.
Bruce Edwards, just 49 years old, was gone. Tom Watson played anyway.
“I felt like he was with me,” Watson would say after the round. “I honestly did. I’m not trying to say anything that I didn’t feel.”
Thursday brought the 10 year anniversary of that opening round. So Watson continued the tradition that began in the years after Edwards’ death.
“Bruce always ate an egg salad on the 13th tee,” said Neil Oxman, Watson’s current caddy and a long-time friend of Bruce. “So Tom left an egg-salad sandwich on the 13th.”
This was Tom Watson’s 41st Masters, and his 10th since Edwards died. This place, among the rustling pine trees and bright azaleas, was the home for some of Watson’s greatest career triumphs. He outdueled Jack Nicklaus for the green jacket in the 1977 Masters; he won again in 1981. But he is 64 years old now, and the length of the course can be difficult. So can the hilly and uneven lies.
His 41st Masters ended on Friday after he shot 81 — including a 45 on the back nine — and missed the cut. Watson has now made just one cut at the Masters since 2003.
“I’m not that good,” Watson said.
Watson had shot 6-over 78 on Thursday. That put him in a tie for 80th place. Some golfers may have chalked it up to the realities of time. The Masters is set up for young golfers that can mash the ball off the tee and sky approach shots to stick on the tricky greens. At this point in his career, Watson can do neither. Nicklaus, his old rival, is now 74 and among those hitting out the ceremonial first balls in the morning.
But true to form, Kansas City’s golf legend was simply upset that he didn’t play better.
“I’m frustrated,” Watson said, “that I didn’t manage those lies like I know sometimes I can.”
In the days leading up to the Masters, friends and family had reminisced about Edwards in some email chains, realizing that 10 years had passed.
On Thursday afternoon, Oxman had stopped on a walkway that led up toward the Augusta National Clubhouse. He had known Edwards since the early 1970s. He was there on that summer day in St. Louis in 1973, when Watson and Edwards first met. Edwards was a teenager from Connecticut, trying desperately to make it as a PGA Tour caddy. Watson was a freckle-faced 23-year-old, just starting his professional career.
Oxman saw Edwards in the parking lot and pointed toward Watson.
“I physically picked Bruce up in the parking lot of the Norwood Hills Country Club,” Oxman recalls. “And I said: ‘Go ask the guy that is walking with his golf bag.’ “
Together, Watson would win 32 PGA Tour events with Edwards by his side. They conquered the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and they appeared together on magazine covers. Edwards was diagnosed with ALS in 2003.
When Edwards died, Oxman picked up his friend’s bag. In his day job, Oxman is an influential Democratic political consultant from Philadelphia. He looked as a long-time adviser and message man for former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
From a political standpoint, Oxman and Watson can appear to be a golfing odd couple at times. But the friendship runs deep. They share email chains about their lives and families; they also talk about golf.
“My first Masters was 2005,” Oxman says.
He’s been here most years since.
Oxman can’t be at every tournament, but he was there at Turnberry in 2009, when Watson nearly won the British Open at age 59.
For Watson, there were no such age-defying feats this week. But Watson’s two days in Augusta had more meaning — and not just because of his friend.
In September, Watson will captain the Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles in Scotland, one of the greatest honors in American golf. The United States side has lost five of seven to the European team, and they haven’t won on foreign soil since 1993. That was the last time Watson served as captain.
Watson, of course, wants to win again, so he spent part of this week scouting and meeting some of the U.S.’s younger players.
“I had a chance to sit down with a couple of the players and talk with them,” Watson said.
Next week, Watson will compete at the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage at Harbour Town in Hilton Head, S.C. It’s another rare tour event for Watson, but another opportunity to do some Ryder Cup recon.
“I’m playing next week against the kids on a little shorter golf course,” Watson said. “Maybe I can play well.”
Moments later, Watson walked off to prepare for another day at the Masters. Oxman carried his bag away. The grounds outside the Augusta National Clubhouse bustled with activity and movement.
Ten years ago, Watson stood inside the Champions locker room and braced for the worst. On Thursday, he left an egg-salad sandwich on the 13th tee.