Watson & Williams take charge at SA Mid-Amateur

A significantly slimmer Graeme Watson may be fighting a knee injury and a scrappy game, but the former SA number one still produced the kind of round that landed him a share of the lead with Steve Williams at the halfway mark of the Volvo South African Mid-Amateur Stroke Play Championship.

Williams set the early target at three under 141 with a birdie-eagle finish, but Watson came home with a birdie and eight pars on the back nine to match the pacesetter’s one-under-par 71.

The leaders have a comfy three shot cushion on Barry Sundleson, who carded a 70, and in-form Gerlou Roux, who dipped one shot below par.

Defending champion Greg Sheard held on to fifth with a 73 and lags four shots off the pace.

Meanwhile Neil Homann shared the first round lead with Watson and Williams, but a 76 dropped the 2012 champion to joint sixth on two over with Johan Nel (75) and Brett Langston (72).

Multiple winner Watson dominated the South African Golf Association’s Mid-Amateur rankings for the last couple of years, however, a recurring knee injury has seriously hampered his season and he has slipped to eighth in the current standings.

“A knee-replacement is inevitable, so I decided to drop some weigh,” he explained. “I managed to shed about 25kgs so far, but my game has suffered as the weight has come off.

“Now I am out there fighting two demons. My swing is a shadow of what it used to be and my knee is still giving me grief. It gives me a great boost to be in contention, because my confidence is certainly not at the level it was this time last year.”

The 47-year-old Ebotse golfer hit 14 greens in regulation, but the putter didn’t come to the party.

“My score doesn’t reflect how well I played, but these greens are extremely slick and fast and I missed probably four or five short putts. That would have made a huge difference.”

Meanwhile Williams was smiling long after he chipped in for third eagle of the championship.

“I was two under through six and two over six holes later,” he said. “I under-clubbed at the 11th made bogey from the trap and at the 12th, I dragged an eight-iron into the greenside bunker.

“I had a long trap shot, so I gave it a little more and the ball shot straight over the green. I took the wrong option and chipped, but it was downhill and just ran past and I ended with a double bogey. So you can just imagine how good that birdie, eagle finish felt.”

Williams hit an eight-iron to give at the par-three 17th and followed a monster tee shot down the 18th fairway with a great four-iron that caught the front edge of the green. “I debated whether to putt or chip and went with the chip and it bounced straight in the hole,” he said.

“The greens are pretty tough, especially the downhill putts, because they are running very fast and they are only going to speed up more as the week progresses.

“But it’s great to hold my own against the younger players, because I am still very competitive.”

Those who have competed against the 52-year-old Modderfontein golfer knows he will certainly not give up without a fight.

Williams put his competitive spirit on display in the SA Senior Open in December, where he not only topped the amateur leaderboard, but finished third overall behind the champion, Hendrik Buhrmann, and his brother, Chris, in second.

141 – Graeme Watson (70, 71), Steve Williams (70, 71)
144 – Barry Sundelson (74, 70), Gerlou Roux (73, 71)
145 – Greg Sheard (72, 73)
146 – Brett Langston (74, 72), Johan Nel (71, 75), Neil Homann (70, 76)
147 – Ryan Dreyer (77, 70), Sean Quigley (75, 72), Elton James (75, 72)

Written and released by Lali Stander on behalf of the South African Golf Association.

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