A year after the Champions Tour event was flooded out before a single shot was played, Tom Watson weathered two rain delays to shoot a 7-under 65 in Friday's first round. Two-time runner up Tom Purtzer was a stroke back at the Nashawtuc Country Club course.
'This is nothing,' Watson said after two torrential, but quickly moving, downpours delayed play for a combined 3 hours, 13 minutes. 'The question is always asked why I play well in bad weather. I guess it's because I grew up in it.'
A native of Kansas City, Watson played through the winter and learned to putt on frozen greens. He once made a hole-in-one on New Year's Day, at about noon, on a 202-yard, downhill shot off rock-hard ground.
And, of course, he had some foul-weather success on the way to winning eight majors -- five of them at the British Open -- and 39 times on the PGA tour. In the 1979 Memorial, with the temperature struggling to reach 40 degrees and winds whipping around 30 mph, Watson shot a 69 in the second round to take control.
'Fifteen pars and three birdies. That was a good day,' Watson said. 'I lapped the field that day.'
For the 1980 British Open at Muirfield, which he won by four strokes, 'it was just blowing like crazy.'
'That was another round I was proud of,' said Watson, who has sole possession of the lead after the first round of a Champions Tour event for the first time in four years.
John Jacobs was third at 5 under, and two-time winner Larry Nelson was among seven tied for fourth and three strokes off the lead.
On Friday, Watson was at the far end of the course, on the 13th tee, when the horn blew the first time. A harrowing cart ride with Lee Trevino at the wheel delivered them to safety before a downpour was unleashed; just as quickly, it passed.
'It was easy,' Watson said. 'We had Trevino keeping everybody in stitches.'
The weather wasn't as bad as last year, when 12 inches of rain in 10 days sent the nearby Sudbury River over its banks and left fish frolicking on the flooded fairways. After toying with the idea of shortening the course or the event, the entire tournament was called off.
It was the first time an entire Champions Tour event had been canceled since the Sept. 11 attacks.
With an otherwise uninterrupted history that dates to 1981, the tournament is the longest-running 54-hole event on the over-50 tour. But Watson had never played Nashawtuc before this week, and said he actually came out of the first shower feeling more comfortable with his swing.
Although he sliced a 3-wood to the right off the tee at the par-4 14th, Watson cut through the trees and made a 13-foot birdie putt that moved him to 6 under. He was still at minus-6 on the 18th tee when the second delay came; Purtzer was tied for the lead in the clubhouse.
Purtzer had played in Concord three times previously, following a fourth-place finish in 2003 with back-to-back second places.
'Love the golf course. Love the tournament. I'm moving back here,' he said after a bogey-free round. 'I've let two slip away here. I've definitely played well at this course. One of these years, it will happen.'
Purtzer had just teed off on No. 16 when the first horn sounded at 2:58 p.m. An hour and 41 minutes later, he put a pitching wedge to within 15 feet and made birdie.
Purtzer got to 6 under on No. 18, a 521-yard par 5, when he reached the green in two, hitting a 3-iron to 38 feet and lagging his first putt 6 inches from the hole.
Hale Irwin went 185 holes in a row without a three-put before doing so at No. 6 on Friday. Purtzer has the longest active streak at 148. ... Leonard Thompson made double eagle on No. 18, holing a 3-wood from 250 yards. ... Denny Helper, who earned a sponsor's exemption by winning the reality show 'The Big Break,' shot 4-under 68.