HUTCHINSON, Kan. - The local fans made Tom Watson feel every bit like the hometown favorite.
Delighting the biggest gallery on the course, the popular Kansas City native shot a 4-under-par 66 Friday on the short-but-unforgiving Prairie Dunes layout and seized a 1-stroke lead after two rounds of the U.S. Senior Open.
Watson, who makes his home about 4 hours northeast of the course, had 11 one-putt greens. He recorded two bogeys and six birdies to go to 4-under 136 for the tournament.
Bunched one stroke behind him were Morris Hatalsky, Bob Gilder, Mark James and defending champion Allen Doyle.
"This certainly is a homer crowd right here," said Watson, a crowd pleaser whenever he competes in the area. "It's been great. I saw quite a few people here I hadn't seen for a while. They all came to Prairie Dunes to see me play. It's fun to play in front of your home crowd."
Hatalsky shot a 67 while Gilder birdied the last two holes for a 66 that tied Watson and Peter Jacobsen for the day's best round.
James and Doyle squandered a chance to catch Watson when they both missed par putts of about 8 feet on their finishing holes.
Doyle, whose closing-round 63 last year vaulted him to the championship, had a 68 to go with his first-round 69 and is 11 under for his last three rounds of U.S. Senior Open competition.
"I kept it in the fairway and kept it on or around the greens," he said. "So yeah, when you come to the halfway point and they're not out of sight, you feel pretty good."
First-round co-leaders Jay Haas and Dave Barr had terrible days after shooting 67 on Thursday.
Haas, the Champion Tour's top money winner, four-putted No. 14 for a double-bogey on the short par-4 and wound up with a 75 - leaving him six strokes off the lead.
Barr, whose 67 was his first sub-par round in a U.S. Senior Open, kept finding the high rough that flanks every hole and creeps in close to most greens. That sent his score soaring to 76.
Jacobsen's 66 left him two strokes back at 138, followed by D.A. Weibring and Bruce Lietzke at 139.
Gilder's up-and-down round included three bogies, nine birdies and a double-bogey on the par-3 fourth.
"You never know on a golf course like this," he said. "You can hit good shots and end up in that rough. You've got to guess half the time what you're doing off the tee and hope that it's right."
Watson recovered with birdies immediately after recording bogeys on No. 3 and No. 8. On the ninth hole, a 452-yard, par-4 that was the toughest on the course Thursday, Watson hit a 7-iron low into a stiff wind that came to rest 4 feet from the cup.
"It was an adventurous round," he said. "I had the Watson of old kind of feel today. Hit it sideways a little bit here and there and hit some really good shots and hit some bad shots and let the putter do the work."
On the long par-4 fifth hole, he rifled a low, wind-cheating 4-iron into the wind to within 8 feet and then sank the putt.
"That's a tough hole today, playing into the wind up that hill," Watson said. "That's a great hole."
His only bad time on the greens came on the par-3 fourth when he three-putted from 20 feet.
"I had a lousy second putt," he said. "Yanked it left."
Loren Roberts, a three-time winner on this year's over-50 tour and second-leading money winner, was 3-over at 143.
Walter Hall, while shooting a 77, had a hole-in-one for the second year in a row in this tournament. Hall holed out a 7-iron on No. 10, his first hole, and became the fourth player to score multiple holes-in-one at the same USGA championship.
"It gave me a great start, but I came back to earth real quick," he said. "I three-putted. I bogeyed the next hole, and then three-putted the next hole. I think I got a little overconfident, and it went south."
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