LAKE ORION, Mich. – Tom Watson has accomplished a lot in golf, winning the British Open five times, the Masters twice along with a U.S. Open.
The 62-year-old has had success on the Champions Tour as well, winning three of its five majors, including the Senior PGA last year.
Finishing first at the U.S. Senior Open has been elusive.
"I've come close," Watson said Wednesday. "Come close a couple times."
Make that a few.
Watson, a three-time runner up at the event, acknowledged that winning the event would mean a great deal.
"This event is a very special event to me," he said.
Watson, Fred Couples and amateur Douglas Snoap will tee off together Thursday morning in the first round. Snoap, who is from Grand Rapids, got a shot to join the star-studded group when Nick Price withdrew because of a family emergency.
"I hope he goes away thinking he got a good break getting paired with us," Couples said. "I think he'll be more nervous than most guys. We're not going to try and make him more nervous. We'll talk to him and have fun with him."
Defending U.S. Senior Open champion Bruce Fleisher also withdrew from the 156-player field due to a hand injury.
Watson is thankful to be healthy enough to play. He injured his right wrist shortly after playing in the Masters while mowing the lawn on his Kansas farm for six straight hours. That grueling task left him with nerve damage that his doctor told him others get from running jackhammers.
"I was in pretty bad shape after I got off the mower," he said.
Watson took several weeks off, including missing out on a chance to defend his Senior PGA championship at Harbor Shores on the other side of the state, before returning to play earlier this month. He finished tied for 20th at the Senior Players Championship and started off well at the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic, where he made the cut before slumping to a tie for 73rd.
"I finished second from last, so that doesn't say very much," Watson said.
USGA officials had a lot of say about the setup at a 6,891-yard course with tight fairways, thick rough and small greens that is about 30 miles north of Detroit.
"We do want it to be the toughest test in golf that these players encounter each year," USGA executive Jeff Hall said. "They can circle it on the calendar and know, OK, I'm coming to Indianwood in 2012. It's going to be a little bit different than what they see every week."
Watson likes his chances of ending his U.S. Senior Open drought at Indianwood if he improves his inconsistent iron game.
"You've got to drive the ball on the fairway," he said. "If you don't, you're going to the Detroit airport on Friday night."
Couples — like Watson — is hopeful his health holds up well enough to help him leave the Motor City after putting a U.S. Senior Open championship on his resume. Couples said the accomplishment would rank just below the 1992 Masters and pair of Players Championship titles he has won.
"This would be right under it," he said.
The 52-year-old Couples took last week off to rest his oft-injured back. He's hoping that improves his chances of winning for the second time this year on the Champions Tour and to perhaps recapture some of the magic he had in April as the oldest player to lead the Masters going into the weekend before finishing tied for 12th.
"I did not play any golf last week just to make sure coming in here that I could physically play and not be in too much pain or have too much trouble swinging," he said.
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/larrylage