Sunday, July 08, 2007

HAVEN, Wis. (AP) — Tom Watson knows all about playing in the wind, and he has five British Open titles to prove it.

When the flags finally started flapping at Whistling Straits on Saturday, it shouldn't have been a surprise that Watson stayed at the top of the U.S. Senior Open leaderboard.

The course that looks more like a potential British Open site than a slice of central Wisconsin found its signature windy "whistle" on Saturday, and Watson handled it better than the players trying to chase him down.

"I've been pretty good at that over my career," Watson said. "So, the conditions here were kind of like that today."

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On a day when only eight players scored under par, Watson shot a 1-over-par 73 to carry a 3-shot lead into the final round on Sunday. Watson is 7 under for the tournament, and his closest pursuer is Loren Roberts at 4 under. John Ross, Sam Torrance and Vicente Fernandez are tied at 3 under.

After relatively docile conditions through the first two rounds, players had to contend with winds that blew at an estimated 10-20 mph and got stronger throughout the day. Even harder winds are forecast for Sunday's final round — an advantage, perhaps, for Watson.

"We all know what he can do in the wind," Roberts said. "He's a great ball striker."

But even Watson didn't have it easy Saturday.

Watson frittered away his early lead, shooting 3-over-par on the front nine and dropping into a tie with Roberts. But Watson recovered on the back nine, and regained the three-shot lead he held going into Saturday when Roberts made a double-bogey on the par-3 17th.

"Even though I didn't hit the ball very well, it was a very good round of golf," Watson said.

Watson's struggles began when he missed an 8-foot putt for par on the first hole. Watson birdied the fifth hole, but bogeyed Nos. 6, 8 and 9 to leave the front nine in a tie with Roberts at 5 under.

Watson birdied the 10th as Roberts made bogey, but Roberts birdied the 11th and caught Watson to tie for the lead again on the par-4 14th. Roberts sank a long birdie putt, then watched as Watson missed his own 6-foot putt for birdie.

Roberts hit his second shot on the par-5 16th into the rough. He recovered to make par, but Watson made a 15-foot birdie putt to retake the lead at 7 under.

Roberts' tee shot on the par-3 17th plugged deep in a bunker, forcing him to take a drop for an unplayable lie. Roberts two-putted for a double bogey, and Watson had his three-shot lead back.

Still, Roberts likes his chances on Sunday.

"For me to shoot over par and still be in the last group says a lot about how tough the golf course was," Roberts said.

One of the few players to make a major move up the leaderboard was Senior PGA tournament champion Denis Watson, who began play at 3 over for the tournament but had the best round of the day, a 5-under 67 to move to 2 under overall.

"Anytime you have a great day, it's good," Denis Watson said. "I was frustrated and actually drove the ball better the first two days. I hit maybe a slightly errant shot here and there, and I just got raked over the coals."

Denis Watson and the other contenders might not have an easy time catching Tom Watson on Sunday. But Tom Watson has been in this position in the U.S. Senior Open several times before and come away without a victory.

For all his success in major tournaments in his days on the PGA Tour, Watson has never won a U.S. Senior Open. He has had several chances, finishing second in three of the past five senior opens.

Playing with the lead in front of a partisan crowd in his home state of Kansas in the final round of last year's senior open, Watson was beaten by Allen Doyle.

"Maybe this is my time," Watson said.

And this time, Watson might have the wind in his favor, as the forecast on Sunday calls for 25 mph winds.

High winds are supposed to be the signature of Whistling Straits, and they blew hard during practice rounds earlier this week. But the tournament's first two rounds were played under calm conditions, leading to unexpectedly low scores.

Now, players are happy to make par in some spots.

"When you put the ball on the tee, you're shaking (nervously) because you never know what happens," said first-day leader Eduardo Romero, who shot a 1-under 71 to move to 2 under for the tournament. "You can make seven or eight or three, you never know."

Divots: One day after recording a triple bogey at No. 18, Romero made bogey at the course's tough finishing hole after having to hit a short wedge shot from next to the grandstand into a bunker. ... Watson was left wondering about the accuracy of the "computer" in his head after hitting four approach shots over the green. "Something's wrong with the computer there," Watson said. ... Six players are tied at 2 under.

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