Watson in front at Hualalai


POSTED: Saturday, January 23, 2010

KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii » Youth may be served on the Champions Tour, but not before Tom Watson gets a heaping helping first.

Shooting a blistering 9-under 63 in yesterday's opening round of the $1.8 million Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, the 60-year-old Watson grabbed a two-shot lead over tour rookie Fred Couples (65) and relative newcomer Tom Lehman (65).

Watson's best finish last year after having hip replacement surgery in October 2008 was his dramatic second at the British Open at Turnberry. There were no players over age 55 who won an event on the senior circuit in 2009.

“;I'm going to try to rectify that this year,”; Watson said.

He got off to a great start by firing one of only two bogey-free rounds in the opening event on the Champions Tour. This elite field of 36 is comprised of winners from the previous year, plus eight sponsor's exemptions, one of which is Couples.

A gallery of about 150 greeted Couples and Nick Price at the opening tee. Couples didn't disappoint the relatively large following, dropping a birdie from 10 feet. He had six birdies, an eagle and a bogey at the par-4 third, where he three-putted from 30 feet in his first round on the senior circuit.

“;It was everything I thought it would be,”; Couples said. “;I knew there would be some low scoring. I was trying to catch Watson after one day. It's not a course where you go out and shoot a 67 or 66 on, but you have to do that and you have to do that every day.

“;I did a lot of good things. I made a couple of putts. I'm not accustomed to rolling the table. I need to hit the ball the same as I did today, but make a few more putts and see what happens.”;

Lehman joined Couples at 65, despite a triple bogey at the par-3 fifth. Lehman, who played in eight Champions Tour events last year, is making his first appearance at Hualalai. He carded eight birdies, one eagle and the lone triple that kept him from shooting a 10-under 62.

“;It was a fun day because I had a great pairing,”; Lehman said. “;You know, Corey (Pavin), we're real good friends. It was his first round out here and the fact that he's the Ryder Cup captain. It was a great, fun round of golf.

“;I played well. I made a bunch of birdies right off the bat. I had four birdies on the first seven holes, I just happened to make that one oops right there in the middle of it all. But I quickly got back on track. All in all, a very good day.”;

Price, Michael Allen, Dan Forsman and Phil Blackmar, who managed the other bogey-free round, were tied for fourth at 6-under 66. There were 22 rounds in the 60s, something Watson knew would happen when he stepped onto the first tee box and noticed there was no wind.

“;We've been playing with some wind the last couple of days,”; Watson said. “;The course was there for the taking. With no wind, you can shoot some good scores out there. There are a lot of opportunities for birdies, which I did do today.

“;That's a big thing for me. If I feel like I can make some putts, I feel like I can win. I've been working with Jack (Nicklaus) and Andy North on my putting. Trying to get something when I'm working on a short stroke. It has promise, let's put it that way. That's all I can give it right now, is some promise.”;

The key for Watson in 2009 was having hip replacement surgery, but he still looked at last year as a mixed blessing.

“;I was lucky last year. I was pain free,”; Watson said. “;I had no issues with sleeping at night. People have asked me, what have you looked back on last year. I finished second in the British Open, but the key is, and the way I judge a year is, it's been a success if I had a victory. I didn't have a victory last year.”;

Put two more good rounds together over the next couple of days and Watson may rectify that after all. He opened 2006 here the same way, with a 9-under 63, but wound up in a tie for fifth after Loren Roberts went on to set the 54-hole record at 25-under 191 in his rookie season.

The youth movement is a reality, but don't count out Watson just yet.

“;Young seniors dominated the tour last year,”; Watson said. “;This is a quarter-horse event. It's a sprint. You get on your horse and ride it as hard as you can. And hope you don't trip.”;



At Hualalai Golf Course

Purse: $1.8 million

Yardage: 7,107; Par 72

First Round
Tom Watson32-3163
Tom Lehman35-3065
Fred Couples33-3265
Michael Allen32-3466
Phil Blackmar34-3266
Nick Price34-3266
Dan Forsman33-3366
Peter Jacobsen35-3267
Bruce Lietzke32-3567
Hale Irwin35-3267
Corey Pavin36-3167
Keith Fergus35-3267
Allen Doyle34-3468
Mike Goodes35-3368
Brad Bryant33-3568
Mark O'Meara33-3568
John Cook33-3568
Bernhard Langer33-3568
Bruce Vaughan36-3369
Mark Wiebe32-3769
Mark McNulty36-3369
Loren Roberts33-3669
D.A. Weibring36-3470
Jay Haas36-3470
Curtis Strange37-3471
Andy North32-3971
Jerry Pate34-3771
Bobby Wadkins36-3571
Mike Reid37-3471
Jeff Sluman35-3671
Andy Bean36-3571
R.W. Eaks37-3572
Ben Crenshaw39-3372
Denis Watson39-3574
Tom Pernice, Jr.37-3875
Gary Player38-3876