Tom Watson shot his second consecutive 64 yesterday to take a three-shot lead at the MasterCard Championship.

Ailing Watson
is a pain

His shoulder may not be 100 percent,
but his play has been top-notch through
two rounds

KA'UPULEHU, Hawaii » Tom Watson wasn't able to run away and hide during yesterday's second round of the $1.6 million MasterCard Championship, but he may be hard to find today.

Back-to-back 64s gave Watson a three-shot advantage over Wayne Levi in this winners-only event. And while he couldn't recall ever shooting a pair of eight-under rounds to start a tournament, he's well aware he may need another one to hold off this stellar field.

Only Arnold Palmer and Gary Player failed to find the red among the 37 seniors competing on the toothless par-72 Hualalai Golf Club course. With little or no wind greeting the best players on the Champions Tour, everybody old was young again.

The course yielded 12 eagles yesterday, including two each by Dana Quigley, Hale Irwin and Craig Stadler. All three are within shouting distance of Watson, whose 128 is the best 36-hole finish in the history of this tournament.

Paired with Watson, Levi fired a 7-under 65 for a two-day total of 131. Gil Morgan, who won this tournament in 1998 with a record-run of 195, equaled Watson's 64 yesterday to finish in a tie for third at 132. Quigley joined him with a 7-under 65. He won this tournament in 2003 and finished second to defending champion Fuzzy Zoeller.

"Nobody is going to win this tournament shooting a final-round 69," Quigley said. "If the conditions are the same as they were today, you've got to go low. I lost some ground today to Tom, but I'm very happy with where I am."

So is Watson, who played so poorly the last part of 2004 due to hip and shoulder injuries, it's amazing to see how well he's shooting now. During the first round, he needed a bottle of Advil to fight off the pain. Yesterday, the Advil wasn't enough as Watson conceded he didn't feel or play as well as he did the opening 18 holes.

Tom Watson watched his second shot on the 16th hole during yesterday's round.

After yesterday's 10-minute session with the media, Watson climbed slowly down from the podium, eased himself into a waiting golf cart and grabbed his ailing right shoulder as he returned to the Four Seasons resort. His new putting stroke wasn't as kind as it was the first day, either, but Watson didn't need it, thanks to some excellent ball-striking.

And while he couldn't remember a better start in a tournament, he did say it was the first time in his career that he played back-to-back rounds without a five on his card. Watson has eight birdies on the four par-5s.

"I'm stuck on a very good number," Watson said. "I haven't done that, I don't think. I can't remember if I shot a pair of 64s back-to-back. Don't ask this old memory because I don't have a clue. I didn't hit any real good putts today. I did hit a good stroke at No. 16 (for birdie), but that was the only one.

"I didn't have the confidence with my new putting stroke that I had yesterday. But I'm going to stick with it. It's the right way to go. It takes three weeks to break a bad habit and I'm only on my fifth day. So we'll see what happens."

What happened yesterday was Watson didn't need to putt all that well. His short game was so good, he had six 1-footers for birdie and another 1-footer for par. Watson finished with 27 putts for the round, but it was the four consecutive birdies on the back nine that kept Watson removed from the fast-closing field.

The top 12 finishers yesterday shot a combined 84 under par. Zoeller is tied for 12th at 8-under 136 and trails Watson by eight shots. Four golfers shot 65 yesterday, including Irwin, who climbed to within six shots of the lead. He is tied for fifth with Stadler and 1999 winner John Jacobs.

"I think you need to be within three or four shots of the lead to have a legitimate chance," Irwin said. "Where I am would be a bit of a stretch, but you never know."

That means it's likely a four-man chase, with past winners Quigley and Morgan maybe having an edge over Levi to track down Watson. Levi has been shooting well all week, including a 10-under 62 in Thursday's pro-am.

"Now, if I could pull that off, maybe I've got a chance," Levi said, then smiled. "But you'd better bear down out here tomorrow or guys are going to be passing you by left and right. Tom is playing very well. I'm happy with how I'm playing. Let's go play and see what happens."

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