'It makes you focus a lot better, I think,' Watson said of playing under difficult conditions. 'I think at times when you don't have the wind you don't focus quite as well. When there's wind, a lot of times you are just happy to get on the green. And then when you hit the ball close, you really feel like you have accomplished something.'
While only five players were able to break 70 at the TPC of Michigan on Friday, Watson did so with virtual ease. After an opening-round 70 that put him six back of overnight leader Gil Morgan, Watson jumped out of the gate on Friday and never looked back.
He hit a 7-iron into the wind to 12 feet for a birdie at the par-4 second. Watson then birdied the par-3 fourth and drained a 30-footer at the par-4 fifth to make it two in a row.
At the par-5 seventh, Watson nearly holed out from the fairway and ended up two-putting for another birdie. He kept plugging along and dropped a 9-iron inside 20 feet for a birdie at the ninth to make the turn at 7-under.
Watson continued his fine play on the inward half and hit a 9-iron out of a fairway bunker at the par-4 11th to set up another birdie. His tee shot at the par-3 12th landed three feet from the cup for a second straight birdie.
At the par-4 16th, Watson hit a pitching-wedge within six feet and ran home the putt for his eighth birdie of the day. He had a chance to match the course record at the 18th but his three-foot birdie try failed to find the bottom of the cup.
'If I had to be critical about the round, I didn't drive the ball in the fairway quite enough but my iron-play and my recovery was good,' said Watson. 'I think this is a very difficult golf course.'
The 53-year-old is still searching for his first victory of the season, while also devoting his time and effort to help his caddie Bruce Edwards.
'I said when he was diagnosed with ALS that I wanted to win for him, and came close at the U.S. Senior Open,' said Watson. 'I haven't had a history of winning very many times on the Champions Tour, and I really do want to win for Bruce. Have another hug on the 18th green like we have had many times before.'
North had an up-and-down start to his round with three birdies and two bogeys over is first five holes. He birdied the par-5 seventh to reach 7-under but found trouble with a bogey at the 11th.
North responded with a birdie at the par-5 13th and added a birdie at the par-5 17th to move into second place alone at 8-under-par 136 after a round of 69.
Morgan, who won this event in 1998, collected two birdies and one bogey over his first nine holes to make the turn at minus-9.
He added a birdie at the 10th to reach 10-under, but Morgan's round fell apart down the stretch.
He bogeyed three of his last five holes en route to a round of 73.
Morgan was joined by Bob Murphy, Terry Mauney and Mike McCullough in a tie for third at 7-under-par 137.
Tom Kite was one shot further back at 6-under-par 138.
Dave Stockton, who is a two-time winner of this event, carded a 1-under 71 to finish at 4-under-par 140 along with Jim Thorpe, Tom Jenkins, Larry Nelson, Mike Hill, Fuzzy Zoeller and Craig Stadler.
Defending champion Stewart Ginn responded from an opening-round 73 with a 3-under 70 on Friday. The Australian finished nine shots off the lead in a group at 1-under-par 143 that includes Hale Irwin.