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Tom Watson finally gets to play at home

Now in the twilight of his illustrious career, Tom Watson is about to embrace one of the few dreams to elude him. He's finally getting to compete in front of his hometown fans.

Galleries this weekend for the TD Waterhouse Championship are expected to swell by at least 15 percent to 20 percent over last year, when Watson's 50th birthday fell just a couple of days too late to qualify him for Kansas City's Senior PGA Tour event.

"If we have good weather, we're looking at some huge crowds," tournament director Jeff Kleiber said. "We won't know exactly how much until we see what the walk-up is on Saturday and Sunday."

Along with his good friend George Brett, Watson has been one of the most popular athletes in Kansas City the past 20 years. People appreciated the fact that after he became an international star, he chose to continue making his home in the town where he grew up.

Through the years, Watson has been active in civic and charitable affairs, conducting clinics for junior golfers and bringing the sport's greatest stars to town for annual exhibitions that have raised millions of dollars for Children's Mercy Hospital.

"I always dreamed of competing in my hometown," said Watson, whose 29-year professional career has seen him win 34 PGA events, including eight majors.

The last time he competed in Kansas City was 1971, when he won the Missouri Amateur just before turning pro.

"I feel like I'm under more pressure here in my hometown to perform," he said. "But that's OK. I enjoy the challenge. I enjoy the pressure of competing here."

The rest of the field knew what to expect when the 54-hole tournament started Friday morning on the 6,820-yard, par-72 Tiffany Greens course.

"Sure, there's a home field advantage in golf," defending champion Allen Doyle said. "There will be light applause for (other golfers) and a ground-shaking roar for Tom. But that's the way it ought to be."

Watson makes no effort to hide the importance he's attaching to his first pro tournament in Kansas City.

"I really do want to win this golf tournament in the worst way," he said. "It would be a nice story to write, a nice victory to have, like Jack Nicklaus winning in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

"I want to win it for a lot of reasons."

Watson, who has one victory as a senior, came into the tournament playing well. A tip from his old teacher, Stan Thirsk, even seems to have cured a balky putter.

"Stan had me ... just lift the putter up a little bit before I stroke it," he said. "I think that may be the problem I've been having, putting downward pressure on the putter before I took it back. I'm enthusiastic about the chances of putting well this week."

Six of this year's top money-winners on the Senior PGA Tour have entered the tournament, including three-time winner Bruce Fleisher.

Doyle won last year with an 18-under-par 200 total, but the course is a year older and the greens are in much better shape.

"If we get a lot of wind, this course won't be 18 under par," Watson said. "But if we have little wind, you're going to see a lot of birdies. This course, with no wind, you can attack it."

Watson agrees that if there is such a thing as home field advantage in golf, he will own it.

"It's going to be a lot like at the Mercy Hospital Golf Classic, a lot of good-natured cheering going on," he said.

"I'm past my prime on the regular tour. It would be nice to win here on the Senior Tour."


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