x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

One more crossed off Watson's list

Like in the movie Bucket List, the American legend ticked off Dubai from the list of places he hadn't been to and was seen smiling despite a poor round.

In The Bucket List, the 2007 movie starring the Hollywood actors Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, a pair of ageing men compile an inventory of life goals and travel the world ticking off each target as it is achieved. This week at the Dubai Desert Classic, a similar scenario is under way. Tom Watson, the 60-year-old golf legend from America's Midwest, made his competitive Middle East debut at the Emirates yesterday.

The eight-time major winner said beforehand that he felt at a disadvantage because he had never played the Majlis course before and he struggled in some blustery conditions to card three bogeys and a double-bogey and finish his opening round with a one-over par total of 73. But while some players would, in similar circumstances, scowl and sulk, Watson - dressed in a red and white striped polo shirt - swung his clubs like a cane, smiled and donned his cap to the swollen gallery, which followed his every move.

It appeared as if nothing could throw this genial gent - although his collapse at Turnberry last year was testament to disprove such a theory. With the wind blowing and sand swirling into players' faces forcing many to opt to wear sunglasses, Watson was in his element: he had ticked off another item on his list. "On my bucket list was to come to the Gulf," he said with a sincere smile, despite the disappointment of missing a putt for a birdie on the par-five 18th.

"I've had the opportunity to go to Kuwait and also Iraq for two of the past three years to visit our troops over there and I have certainly seen it from a different perspective from what it is here. But I want to see a bit more of the world before I leave." When he said "leave", he didn't mean on a flight. "I know my years are short and I'm looking to take advantage and see some of these places and see what I've missed," added Watson, who turned professional in 1971.

"The way I live my life, I've always been a hotel-room-and-golf-course kind of guy. I was always focused on being the best golfer and didn't have a whole lot of time to do anything else. Now that I do, I'm smelling the roses a little bit more." Watson has won three of the four majors in golf, yet when asked about the remaining items on his list, "winning the PGA Championship" did not even produce a flicker of excitement in his eye. This is a man enjoying life; golf does not rule over everything else any more - although the passion and dedication to the game remains.

"Last year wasn't a successful year," he said. "Yes, I finished second in The Open Championship at Turnberry, but still it was a second place, not a victory, and that's what I'm out there to do. "But I'm still learning. This golf course, the Emirates - I'm learning it. I'm very impressed with the tournament; it's something very special and it certainly makes it one of the best on the European Tour."

Like Nicholson and Freeman in the movie, Watson hopes to take in some of the world's greatest and oldest sights: the Himalayas, Kilimanjaro, the Giza Pyramids, the South Pole. Yet he has found himself amazed by some of the emirate's own futuristic sights. "Dubai is a great combination of the Arab world and western culture. It's embraced the capitalistic spirit and the amount of wonderful things they have built here is spectacular," he added.

"I went to the new racetrack [Meydan]. "I've been to Churchill Downs, but Churchill Downs is a broken down stable compared to this place. It's something spectacular." @Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae