SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — No wonder Tom Watson and Andy North campaigned so hard for a return to team play in the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. They’re very good at it.
Watson and North combined for a better-ball 62 at The Club at Savannah Harbor on Saturday for a 23-under 121 total and a four-stroke lead heading into the final round.
Brad Bryant and Lonnie Nielsen (60) were tied for second with Jeff Sluman and Craig Stadler (63). Bernhard Langer and David Edwards (61) were five strokes back on the island course in the middle of the Savannah River.
“We distanced ourselves from the second-place guys and gave ourselves a bit of a cushion,” Watson said.
Watson and North, who have played 144 consecutive holes together without a bogey, teamed to win the Raphael Division the last three years, but it was always unofficial money. And they always complained.
“You’ve heard us for the last three years, standing on our soap box about how important it was to get this to be a team event again,” North said after a blistering 59 the day before.
The Legends Division of the tournament, an individual affair since 2002, switched back to team play this year and declared the earnings would be official money in the annual rankings. Watson and North moved up.
“We do have an advantage,” Watson said. “We’ve played team play the last three years. I don’t care if you’re playing the Raphael Division, or what you’re playing. It helps that we’ve done it.”
Watson chipped in for birdie on the par-4 14th to give the team a two-stroke lead at 21 under. They had three holes remaining when a passing thunderstorm halted play for 2 hours, 20 minutes.
“You never know what’s going to happen (after a delay),” Watson said. “We thought we’d be finishing into the wind. Then, the wind changed. So we got a break.”
Sluman and Stadler, starting the day three strokes off the lead, didn’t make their first birdie until the fourth hole. Things improved after that. Sluman hit a 17-degree utility club from 240 yards within an inch for an eagle at the par-5 11th that got them to 17 under, just one back of the leaders at that point.
“We Mutt and Jeffed it pretty good,” Stadler said. “It was nothing special until Slu’s bomb on No. 11. That was really something.”
Watson and North, meanwhile, were running off four straight birdies on Nos. 11-14. North’s 45-foot birdie putt at No. 18 completed their charge.
Bryant and Nielsen had eight birdies on the back nine, their first nine.
“Gosh, it was fun,” Nielsen said. “It’s amazing when it gets going, because they just start adding up so fast and just one after another. So, loads of fun on that nine.”
The Legends was first played in 1978 in Austin, Texas, and is considered the event that launched the 50-and-over tour. It was all team play until 2002, but always unofficial money. The tournament was played in four cities and on eight courses before coming to Savannah in 2003.
Notes: Edwards aced the par-3 15th, using a 6-iron from 157 yards. It was the sixth hole-in-one of his pro career. It was the first Legends ace in Savannah. … Nielsen, winless in 124 events on the PGA Tour between 1978 and 1996, spent most of his career as the pro at Crag Burn Golf Club in East Aurora, N.Y., near Buffalo. He was the PGA National Club Professional of the Year three times. “In an organization of 40,000 people, that’s pretty good,” Bryant said. “He’s a legend as well.”