He stands on the clubhouse steps at Sahalee Country Club, accused of wanting something too much.

Tom Watson considers the charge. The wind rustles the tops of 100-foot-tall Douglas firs nearby like a murmur rippling across a courtroom. A moment later, he enters a plea: guilty.Sort of.

"It's always been important to me," he said. "My time is running out."

One of the more noble quests in sport will take place over the weekend almost as a sideshow. It stars Watson, one of the best golfers of his era, stubbornly chasing the one major championship trophy that has eluded him.

After more close calls at the PGA Championship than Watson probably cares to remember, he has devised a new strategy to deal with however many chances remain: the less said the better.

"Disappointed? Sure. Angry, too. I turned a very good round into a very mediocre one today," he said. "I don't like to finish like that. Nobody does. I'm going over to the practice range right now and take it out on some little white balls."

Watson finished at 2-over 72 in Thursday's opening round. He dumped a 5-iron into the pond fronting the 17th green and took a double bogey there. He lost his drive to the right at the 18th, hacked a sand wedge back onto the fairway and closed out with another bogey.

Which explained why his caddy, Bruce Edwards, parked himself alongside the bag at the door to the player's locker room. He's been around long enough to know that after a finish like that, the clubs wouldn't see the trunk of a courtesy car for a few hours at least.

"He was always the type of player who made birdies coming down the last few holes at the majors," Edwards said.

"I don't think he came into the last couple of majors prepared and this one he puts a lot more focus on. I thought he'd play well. And maybe he'll still prove me right."

No golfer has ever won all four majors - the Masters, U.S. and British Opens and PGA Championship - in a calendar year and only four men have done so over the course of a career. One measure of the prestige attached to the feat is that all four are recognizable simply by their last names: Nicklaus, Hogan, Sarazen, Player.

That's not to say Watson's name or his place in history suffer by comparison. He already has eight majors.

Arnold Palmer, who won seven, was a career 0-for-the-PGA. Sam Snead, who likewise had seven, never won a U.S. Open. Byron Nelson, with five majors, never won a British Open. Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, who rolled to seven and 11 majors, respectively, came along too early to have a chance at what Tom Kite reverentially calls "the matched set" and the rest of us call the Grand Slam.

What makes Watson's quest both more poignant and more immediate is that one month shy of his 49th birthday, he is no longer the golfer he was once.

Twenty years ago, he was without peer as a ball-striker and ferocious putter. Then, without warning, his putting touch disappeared. Watson's golf game has become hide-and-seek ever since, moving the ball cautiously from spot to spot, waiting to find out whether lightning or disaster would strike first.

He ended an eight-year winless drought on the PGA Tour in 1996, then slipped quietly into the background again. This season, he already has a win on Tour, at the Colonial. He also has missed the cut at the first three majors for the first time in his career.

"Nothing's different," Watson said. "I've just played pitifully."

He has an excuse. A good one, too, but Watson doesn't use it.

In January, he separated from his wife of 20 years. The divorce decree that will finalize it is still weeks off. If it weighs on Watson's mind, he refuses to show it. It is another one of those things about which, apparently, he has decided the less said the better.