LUTZ, Fla. (AP) — Defending champion Tom Watson shot an 8-under 63 on Friday to take a three-stroke lead over Mark Wiebe and David Eger after the first round of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am.
“You ride (this) pony as long as it will go. It’s like the Pony Express,” the 58-year-old Watson said. “You ride it till it drops. You know there’s going to be some times when nothing seems to happen right. Everything happened right today.”
The five-time British Open champion shot a 7-under 28 on his last nine hole, the front nine of the TPC Tampa Bay, missing just two birdie putts – a 12-footer on No. 2 and a 20-footer on No. 8. He hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation.
“I could’ve birdied every hole,” said Watson, who missed the cut in the Masters last week with consecutive 75s. “I’ve never shot a 28 before. I ran the tables on that front side.”
Watson did make two bogeys – one on his on first hole at No. 10 and another on 17 – but once he made the turn, he cruised on the front nine, needing just 11 putts – including a 50-footer for a birdie on No. 4.
“I got a new putter this week,” said Watson, a 10-time winner on the 50-and-over tour. “It’s the same model I always use, but it felt real good after those first two holes. When I made the 50-footer, I felt that this was going to be a good day. When you make a 50-footer and you start off making a few birdies in a row, you just say, ‘Let’s ride this thing for as long as it will go.’ And I felt I did that.”
Mark Wiebe is coming off a victory April 6 in the inaugural Cap Cana Championship in the Dominican Republic.
Scott Hoch, a two-time winner this year, was four strokes back at 67 along with Mark James and Vicente Fernandez. Bobby Wadkins, Tom Purtzer and Mike Reid had 68s.
Bernhard Langer, also a two-time winner this year, opened with a 69. Three-time PGA Tour winner Mike Hulbert also had a 69 in his tour debut. He turned 50 on Monday.