HAVEN, Wis. (AP) — Tom Watson says his swing is awkward, he’s not comfortable at Whistling Straits and his legs don’t feel very good.
Watson’s desire to win a major championship? Strong as ever.
“My approach to the game has never differed. It’s still to go out and play my best golf,” he said after grabbing the second-round lead at the U.S. Senior Open with a 66 on Friday to move to 8 under. “The body doesn’t feel like the Tom Watson of old, it feels like my legs are in concrete somewhat. But, I got the job done today.”
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His chances aren’t too bad, either.
Watson, who has been the runner-up in this tournament three of the last five years and is winless in all seven of his appearances, had a large gallery following his final nine holes. Loren Roberts, Des Smyth, Lonnie Nielsen, Ben Crenshaw and Vicente Fernandez were tied for second, three strokes behind at 5-under 139.
But the day belonged to Watson, who started at No. 10 and birdied four straight holes from No. 14 to No. 17. He gave one back on No. 18, but carded four more birdies down the stretch before a bogey on No. 8.
“I wish I could feel like the golf swing is hitting on all cylinders, I feel like it’s a little bit off,” Watson said.
Watson said he thought about Byron Nelson’s mantra.
“Whenever he got too complacent about the way he was playing, he started making mistakes,” Watson said. “But if he felt unsure about the way he was swinging, it seemed like he scored the best. So maybe that’s the state I’m in right now.”
Nielsen, who won last week’s Commerce Bank Championship in East Meadow, N.Y., can’t believe he’s near the top of the leaderboard with Crenshaw and Watson.
“You don’t use those three names in the same sentence very often,” he said. “I’m still using the same swing keys this week and the ball’s going pretty much where I’m looking most of the time.”
First-round leader Eduardo Romero had a rough afternoon capped by a triple-bogey meltdown on the 18th hole.
Romero’s tee shot landed in a bunker, from which he pitched across the fairway and into another bunker. His next shot landed in a creek short of the green, and he needed help from fans in a nearby grandstand to find his ball.
Meanwhile, two-time champion Hale Irwin waited on the green above to attempt a short putt for a birdie that he missed.
“I knew I had to make that putt to make the cut,” said Irwin, who finished 5 over, one below the cut, and was eliminated from a Champions Tour major for the first time, breaking a streak of 24 tournaments. “There’s nothing good about my game right now … I’m fed up with it.”
Watson, who has won five British Opens, two Masters and a U.S. Open, lost this tournament in a playoff in 2002 and blew a final round lead against Allen Doyle down the stretch last year.
“It would be nice to not finish in second again and come back with that beautiful trophy,” Watson said. “I’m sure in the last two rounds (the course) will test us. The first two rounds did.”
He won’t have to worry about Doyle this year. The two-time defending champion finished 11 over after a miserable opening round before a second round at even par.
“When everybody was saying three-peat, I was saying there was a reason no one has,” Doyle said. “I tried to underplay it and downplay it some, but golf’s a game when you’re on, you’re on and you can make things happen. And when you’re a little off sometimes, you just can’t make them happen.”
Watson said even as his body begins to falter, he’s as competitive as when he began his pro career in 1971.
“I love to compete, it’s fun to be in the hunt and to see if you can hit the right shots when the chips are down,” he said. “That gives me a great deal of satisfaction when you can do that. And when I lose that, I won’t be out here.”
Divots: Irwin’s last cut from any event was the 2004 PGA Championship, also played at Whistling Straits. … Bob Ford recorded the 17th known hole-in-one in U.S. Senior history on the 166-yard, par-3 third hole using a 7-iron. … Doyle, Gary Player and Miller Barber are the only three golfers to win back-to-back U.S. Senior Open titles in the tournament’s 27 years. … Amateurs Brady Exber, Danny Green, Marty West, Jim Knoll and George Zahringer made the cut.