Tom Watson, left, shakes hands with caddie Tony Navarro during...

Tom Watson, left, shakes hands with caddie Tony Navarro during the first round of the 2015 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2015 in Augusta, Ga. Credit: Getty Images / Jamie Squire

Breaking par in the Masters as a 65-year-old was more than just an unprecedented event, in the opinion of the man who did it Thursday. "At my age," Tom Watson said, "it's a minor miracle."

In his case, it also was a timely reminder that he is a major figure in the history of American golf. He is an eight-time major champion, a two-time winner of the Masters, a legacy that was all but forgotten last fall when he bore the image of beleaguered and belittled captain of the losing U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Back then, Watson could only sit there and listen to Phil Mickelson -- benched during the Saturday matches -- criticize the captain's management style during the losing squad's news conference. With his historic 71 Thursday, Watson became the oldest player to break par in the Masters. He matched the score Sam Snead shot as a 61-year-old in 1974.

And he finished the day only one shot behind Mickelson, who is trying to prove he still can win majors at 44.

Watson, in his 42nd Masters, cited "perfect conditions, no wind, the greens are very soft." Still, for someone eligible for Social Security, just walking the hilly Augusta National course is an achievement. He admitted that he has not even been playing well lately.

So how did he do it? "Old age and treachery," he said. "I've played the golf course enough times to know where I'm supposed to hit it and where I'm not supposed to hit it. I've struggled over the past few years, trying to hit shots like I used to. Ego gets involved. My ego got involved too much the past few years. I played within myself today."

He insisted it was not a matter of being more relaxed, not having the captaincy around his neck. "That didn't have any effect on the way I played last year. Not at all," he said.

Watson, who tied defending champion Bubba Watson's score Thursday, has crossed paths with Mickelson since the team left Gleneagles in Scotland. They saw each other again at the Champions Dinner here Tuesday. Watson said, "We just said hello and that was it."

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