Watts tightens grip after dawn attack

BRIAN Watts wiped the sleep from his eyes yesterday morning to build up a commanding four-stroke lead at the half-way stage of the US$250,000 Kent Hongkong Open at Fanling.

Waking up at 5.30 am to prepare for his 7.48 am tee-off, the 26-year-old American showed no signs of early-morning blues as he toured the Royal Hongkong Golf Club's Composite Course in two-under-par 69.

Three shots clear of the field after his memorable opening-day 63, Watts went to bed last night comforted by the knowledge that he goes into today's penultimate round with four strokes between him and Canadian Ray Stewart.

While Watts continued to set a blistering pace, defending champion Tom Watson of America and Northern Ireland's David Feherty made decisive moves up the leaderboard.

Watson fired six birdies and three bogeys in a 68 to lift him into joint 16th place on 140, while Feherty shot a day's best 65 to claim a share of third place on 137 with Sweden's Robert Karlsson and Yeh Chang-ting of Taiwan.

On a day when legendary Japanese Isao Aoki disqualified himself for signing an incorrect scorecard and changing wind directions posed problems for many players and made good scoring more difficult than in the first round, Spanish superstar Seve Ballesteros returned a 70 to lie in joint 55th position on 144.

Amateur champion Scott Rowe, who outshone Watson on the first day, shot a 76 yesterday, but was one of three Hongkong players to survive the half-way cut for the leading 65 players and ties which came at 145.

Joining him in the weekend line-up is 1992 Order of Merit champion Richard Kan who recorded a 69 for a share of 16th place on 140 and multi-time national champion Yau Sui-ming who added a 74 to his earlier 70.

However, it was the name of Watts which continued to dominate. And on the evidence of the first two days of the opening leg of the 1993 Asian Tour, the Oklahoma State University graduate will not be an easy man to dislodge from top spot.

Returning to the clubhouse before the big names teed-off soon after noon, Watts was in buoyant mood as his hot streak of birdies continued.

''This is as good as I've played for a few years,'' said Watts, who has accumulated 13 birdies so far.

He added: ''I'm hitting some good shots and the putts are going in for me. If I could get another 13 birdies over the weekend it would be outstanding and I'm sure I'd be in with a chance of winning.'' It took Watts only four holes to add to his tally of eight birdies in the first round when he made a 20-footer at the 14th.

In failing to get up and down from the bunker short of the 18th green, Watts dropped his first stroke of the tournament. Although errors of judgement cost him further bogeys at the second and sixth, they were offset by four more birdies.

Joint runner-up in the 1990 Hongkong Open and ninth at last week's Asian Tour Qualifying School in Manila, Watts will be in the limelight today when he partners Feherty in the final flight.

Despite having difficulty with club selection ''through a combination of wind and stupidity'', the European Ryder Cup player recorded seven birdies against a solitary bogey yesterday.

Said Feherty: ''I played pretty much the same as in the first round but I made some putts this time. I feel I can win it from here, but if Brian Watts plays well he'll be hard to beat.'' Watson described his round of 68 as ''a lot more fun'' than his opening 72. He said: ''I played much better. I hit a lot of good shots and made some putts. Brian has a big lead but there is still some room left. I put myself in a hole with that 72 in ideal conditions and I'll need to shoot in the mid-60s over the last two rounds.'' Birdies at three of his first seven holes yesterday saw Watson charge up the leaderboard only to be brought back down to earth with successive bogeys.

''After that I kicked myself in the butt and said 'that's enough of that','' said Watson, who kept himself in the frame with birdies at the fourth, eighth and ninth.