KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — Tom Watson is still being congratulated by fellow players and fans for his magical run at Turnberry last year. All he can think about, however, is how he lost.
“I finished second in the British Open, but the way I judge a year is, if it’s been a success, I had a victory,” Watson said. “I didn’t have a victory last year.”
He hopes 2010 will be a different.
The 60-year-old Watson shot a bogey-free 9-under 63 on Friday to take a two-stroke lead over senior newcomer Fred Couples and Tom Lehman in the Champions Tour’s season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship.
Coming off a win with Jack Nicklaus in the Champions Skins at Kaanapali, Watson attacked the pins and was near-flawless with his putter.
Watson kicked off his scoring by chipping in for eagle from 25 feet on the 526-yard fourth hole. He added seven birdies, five on the back nine. It was his lowest round in the event since opening with a 63 in 2006 en route to a tie for fifth.
The Hall of Famer is starting the year already with some prize money in his pocket, a trophy on his shelf and a good look at Couples from last weekend. Watson and Nicklaus finished with 10 skins and $350,000 for their second Champions Skins victory in four years.
Players enjoyed a calm day at the Nicklaus-designed Hualalai, setting up numerous birdie attempts. Without any wind, the Kona Coast was blanked by volcanic fog, or “vog,” from Kilauea.
The scoring average for the opening round was 68.9 with only three players above par.
“It’s a quarterhorse race. It’s a sprint,” Watson said. “You just get on your horse and ride as fast and hard as you can and hope you don’t trip.”
Couples made his first official Champions Tour start, along with U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, who had a 67. They each received sponsor exemptions, making them the first players to make their tour debuts at the winners-only event.
“It was everything I thought it would be,” Couples said. “Today was a lot of fun.”
Couples, who turned 50 in October, started and ended the round with birdies. He was clearly one of the biggest hitters and had the largest gallery following him.
“I’m not accustomed to huge crowds any more on the PGA Tour, but out here, it’s nice to have enough people to come watch to keep the round going,” said Couples, who plans to play 12 events on the PGA Tour and 10 senior events this year.
Lehman, who tied for 16th last week at the PGA Tour’s Sony Open, overcame a triple bogey on the par-3 fifth hole. He had an eagle and eight birdies.
“I made a bunch of birdies right off the bat,” he said. “The first seven holes, I made four birdies. I just happen to make that one oops right there in the middle of it all.”
Lehman was cruising along with two birdies in the first four holes when he hit his tee shot into the sand on the fifth hole. He then overshot the green, with the ball bouncing into the water, which required taking a drop in the bunker.
He rebounded with birdies on the next two holes and then tore through the back nine. After making the turn, he sank a 9-foot eagle putt on the par-5 10th and birdied four of the next six holes.
Nick Price, Michael Allen, Phil Blackmar and Dan Forsman shot 66s.
Pavin was another stroke behind, along with two-time champion Hale Irwin, Peter Jacobsen, Bruce Lietzke and Keith Fergus. Defending champion Bernhard Langer, seeking his third straight player of the year title, was at 68.
This year’s field of 36 has accounted for 287 PGA Tour titles, including 38 majors. The players include seven members of the World Golf Hall of Fame and 14 major winners.