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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2005

Watson still leading the charge in MasterCard

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

KA'UPULEHU, Hawai'i — If a golfer didn't birdie he skidded backward in yesterday's second round of the MasterCard Championship. Even an eagle or two wasn't enough to keep up with Tom Watson.

Tom Watson will take a three-shot lead into today's final round of the MasterCard Championship.

Baron Sekiya • West Hawaii Today via Associated Press

The Champions Tour destroyed a breeze-free and benign Hualalai Golf Club, with Watson in charge of the demolition. He cloned Friday's bogey-free 64. While seniors ahead of him buried birdies in abundance, Watson just kept pulling further ahead.

In two days, he doesn't have a bogey or a score higher than four.

"Stuck on a good number," Watson said with a shrug. "I haven't done that (consecutive 64s) before, I don't think."

There is little Watson has not done before in golf. He won 39 times, including eight majors, on the regular tour and has six more victories since turning 50 in 1999. But even for him, this is mind-boggling, particularly in the first tournament of the year.

Going into today's final round, he is at 16-under 128. It is the lowest 36-hole total ever at Hualalai, the easiest course on tour the last two years. A 66 today would break Gil Morgan's tournament record here (195), set in 1998.

Watson is three shots ahead of Wayne Levi, who shot 65 — with a bogey — and lost ground. Watson is four shots better than former champions Gil Morgan and Dana Quigley and five up on John Jacobs, Hale Irwin — also former champions — and Craig Stadler, the 2004 Player of the Year.

It is also outrageous. Guys played near-perfect golf ahead of Watson and couldn't close the gap.

Quigley, Irwin and Stadler each eagled two holes, to no avail. Quigley was the only golfer to catch Watson yesterday, when his second eagle (a three-foot putt at No. 14) put him at 12-under. That didn't last long as Watson, two groups back, birdied Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 16.

"That little run on the back nine kept me ahead of everybody," Watson said. "It was the key to my round."

Then Watson uttered a statement that had to make the 36 guys behind him, who are a combined 203-under par, shudder.

"I played better yesterday," he said, shrugging again. "I putted better, hit more quality shots. The wind was howling on the front nine (Friday). Today you just hit the yardage."

He was not happy with his 5-day-old "pure arc" of a putting stroke, which launched him into first Friday. Watson claimed the 18-footer he sank for his final birdie yesterday was his only good stroke.

But, with six putts from within a foot, he hardly needed much else. His three front-nine birdies all came from gimme range as he hit it to a foot on the first hole, then two-putted both the par-5's.


MasterCard Championship

Today's final round, 2:30 p.m.

The Golf Channel

He is eager to see how the new stroke holds up under today's pressure.

"I didn't have the confidence today that I did yesterday," Watson said. "But I'm going to stick with it because I think it's the way to go."

Levi was brilliant — rallying with four consecutive back-nine birdies of his own — but only second-best in his group.

"If you make a bunch of pars in a row here guys will go by you left and right," Levi said. "You just have to keep plugging away. All of a sudden you can light it up. I played with Bruce Fleisher yesterday and he had five birdies in a row. You've just got to do it, too."

Watson wondered if another 64 would be good enough today, on a course he said is playing to a par of "66 or 68."

Irwin, who could buy a few golf courses with the money he has won in Hawai'i, said Hualalai can give a golfer a false sense of security. "It can make you feel like you're playing great," said Irwin, who is 10-under on the par-5's here and even on all the other holes. "It's an 'approachable' golf course, particularly today with no wind. Actually, I think I played better yesterday than today."


Gimme: The 14th hole did not give up a bogey yesterday. There were two eagles (of the day's 12), 23 birdies and 12 pars on the par-5, which was the tour's 10th-easiest hole last year. Hualalai's 10th (1), fourth (3) and seventh (7) were also in the Top 10.

Pay attention: Hale Irwin and Larry Nelson played together yesterday, with diverse results. Irwin shot a bogey-free 65 with two eagles. Nelson had seven birdies, an eagle and six bogeys. "I had trouble keeping his scorecard," Irwin joked.

Paradise sequel: The television special "Hawai'i, Golf Adventures in Paradise" will be re-broadcast on The Golf Channel three times in the next week. The show is equal parts golf and destination feature. The schedule is Tuesday, at 8:30 a.m., Thursday at midnight (5 a.m. Friday EST) and Saturday at 9:30 p.m. (2:30 a.m. Sunday EST).

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8043.


Hawai'i's Stubblefield gets exempt spot

Larry Stubblefield, the Aloha Section PGA senior player of the year, will play in next week's Turtle Bay Championship at the Turtle Bay Resort.

Stubblefield, of Kailua, accepted a sponsor's exemption yesterday.

Hale Irwin will try to win the event for a fourth consecutive time starting Friday.

Other golfers with Hawai'i ties in the field are Dan Nishimoto, Dick McClean and Dave Eichelberger.

Two golfers will earn spots after tomorrow's open qualifier at Turtle Bay's Palmer Course.