Tom Watson knew he had a lot to work on and quickly.
After shooting an even-par 70 during the first-round of the Watson Challenge at Mission Hills Country Club on Friday, Watson said he “had to get back to the barn,” i.e. the driving range.
Whatever Watson worked on, it worked Saturday. Watson shot a 3-under 67 on day two of the tournament and moved into a tie for the lead.
“In my age, you don’t turn your shoulders as much, your body is a little stiff,” said Watson, 65. “I worked on trying to make a fuller shoulder turn.
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“It was encouraging that I did make some good shots with the adjustments that I made ... I think I’ll stick with that thought tomorrow and see how the chips fall.”
Watson is tied at 3 under with Michael Letzig and Chase Hanna.
The three — consisting of one of golf’s legends, a former professional (Letzig) and an amateur (Hanna) — will tee off at 10 a.m. today in the final round.
Watson came out firing Saturday, with a 4-under front nine that put him back in contention. He played par golf the rest of the way but bogeyed the 16th hole. Watson lucked out on No. 17, when his shot hit the walling of a creek and bounced onto the green, setting him up for par rather than a double bogey.
Saturday’s push put Watson in a position to win the trophy that bears his name for the sixth time.
“I’m still out there to win,” Watson said. “It still means a lot to me to say that I’m the champion golfer in Kansas City.”
Letzig and Hanna both shot an even 70 a day after opening at 3 under.
With two holes left, Hanna had a 2-stroke lead over Letzig, but on No. 17, Hanna’s second shot hit a tree limb and bounced into a creek before the green. He made a tough shot out of the weeds, but 3-putted and double-bogeyed the hole.
“I just made one bad swing,” Hanna said. “I played solid, I just need to tighten some things up for tomorrow.”
Letzig has played an even game since his first front nine Friday morning. The slow play has frustrated him to the point it’s affecting him mentally, he said.
“I gotta change my mental attitude and enjoy it tomorrow, because I haven’t been having that much fun the last couple of days,” Letzig said.
A victory would probably make Letzig feel a little better, and it wouldn’t be the first time he and Watson have had their names on the same trophy, as both were Missouri Amateur Champions. Watson won it four times, in 1967-68 and 1970-71, and Letzig did so in 2002.
Letzig decided not to go pro after college and try to win that title and be in that same category as Watson. It’s a sign of the admiration he has for Watson, an eight-time major championship winner.
“That was cool,” Letzig said, “to put my name on a trophy next to his.”
For Hanna, 45 years younger than Watson, it’s just another day on the course.
“I don’t think I’ll treat it any different than if I was playing with my buddies,” Hanna said. “I’ll just try to go out there and play a good round.”