Watson and North hit 59 to lead Liberty Mutual Legends

Des Smyth and Denis Watson are eight shots off the pace after Tom Watson and Andy North birdied the first seven holes en route to a better-ball 13-under 59 in the first round of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf tournament at The Club at Savannah Harbor.

The Irish-American pair had to settle for a five-under par 67 that featured six birdies and one damaging bogey at the par-four ninth.

Tied for 23rd place in the 31-team field, Watson and Smyth cannot afford to drop any more shots if they are to contend for the $800,000 top prize.

But former Major champions Watson and North look like they will take some catching.

"For a while there, we said, 'Let's birdie them all,'" former US Open champion North said. "That's sort of what you have to do. You make three pars in an event like this and eight teams go past you."

During the opening run of birdies, Watson sank a 25-foot putt at No. 3 and North chipped in at the sixth.

"You have to make a lot of birdies to win this thing," Watson said. "You'll probably have to shoot about 62 every day."

Watson, who won the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am last week in Florida, shot a 62 with his own ball and picked up twice when makable birdie putts were not needed. He made the team's final birdie with an 8-foot putt on the par-3 17th.

The teams of R.W. Eaks and Bob Gilder, Keith Fergus and Wayne Levi, Morris Hatalsky and Don Pooley plus John Cook and Joey Sindelar, were 10 under on the island course in the middle of the Savannah River.

Watson and North, who have played 126 consecutive holes together without a bogey, teamed to win the Raphael Division the last three years, but it was always unofficial money. Not any more.

The Legends Division of the tournament, an individual affair since 2002, switched back to team play this year and declared the earnings would be official money in the annual rankings. Several players like Watson and North jumped right in.

"I've campaigned for this for years," North said. "A lot of players wanted this. It's a lot of fun. And a look at how strong this field is shows I was right."

Their 59 was the best best-ball score ever on this course. The record on the 50-and-over circuit is 58 at Barton Creek Country Club in Austin, Texas, by Al Geiberger and Harold Henning in 1991.

In the Raphael Division, Bob Charles and Stewart Ginn shot 10 under for a one- stroke lead over Tony Jacklin and Larry Laoretti.

The Legends of Golf was first played in 1978 at Onion Creek Country Club in Austin, Texas, and is considered the event that launched the Senior PGA Tour, now called the Champions Tour.

It was all team play until 2002, but always unofficial money. The tournament was played in four cities and on eight courses before coming to Savannah in 2003.