Tom Watson is still the king of Kansas City golf. And it has nothing to do with the native Kansas Citian's storied career in the world of professional golf - first on the PGA Tour, where he won 39 tour events, including eight major championships, and now on the Champions Tour. Over the weekend, the 61-year-old local golf legend won his fourth consecutive Watson Challenge, taking on the best golfers in the area.
Watson won going away, posting a four-under-par score of 212 at Blue Hills Country Club in Kansas City, Mo., host for this year's Challenge, to win by five strokes over Sean Daugherty, head club professional at Milburn Country Club. Daugherty has been Watson's chief challenger the last four years of the 54-hole stroke-play event, finishing as the tournament bridesmaid all four years.
When play began in the final round on Sunday, Watson held a one-shot lead over Todd Loechler, the head golf professional at host Blue Hills and Rob Wilkin, the pro at Heritage Park Golf Course in Olathe, Kan. The threesome made up the final pairing for Sunday's concluding 18 holes. Loechler and Wilkin had been tied for the tournament lead at one-under 71 after the first day of play, with Watson just a stroke back after shooting even-par 72 over the 6,646-yard Blue Hills championship layout.
Watson took command early in the final round, holing a 25-foot birdie putt on the second hole, followed by two long and difficult birdie putts at the 10th and 12 holes, which all but put the trophy in Watson's hands for a fourth straight year. Loechler ended the day on his home course, shooting a six-over-par 78, while Wilkin similarly struggled, firing a five-over score of 77 to finish eight shots off the pace, tied for fourth with Dave Letham, a former Missouri State Amateur champion (2008), from Kansas City and Bryan Norton, a professional who plays out of Mission Hills Country Club.
Ryan Zech, 18, of Kearney, Mo., finished third with a three-round, three-over score of 219, seven shots back of Watson. Zech won the Missouri State High School Championship this spring and will play golf at the University of Missouri, starting in the fall.
Watson came into this year's annual Kansas City golf challenge that bears his name fresh off a major championship victory on the Champions Tour, the Senior PGA. While it would be natural for the accomplished 40-year veteran of the professional golf tour to play a little less competitively against lower competition such as the local tournament field in the Watson Challenge, Watson says that's not his nature.
"I play just as hard here as I do at the British Open (now called simply The Open)," Watson said to reporters on Sunday. "I don't buy into that," he said. "There are a lot of players here who can beat me. They haven't yet except for Blake (Graham of host Hallbrook Country Club in 2007, the first year of the Challenge event). But there are still a lot of players who can beat me in this town."
Watson's 28-year-old son, Michael, caddied for his dad again this year. Commenting on his famous golfing father's continued run with competitive golf success despite getting up in years in age, the younger Watson said: "It'll never get old. One of these days that unfortunately will end," he said, "but every win is special."
Watson announced at the championship ceremony that he was donating his $10,000 prize money for winning this year's Challenge to the Joplin, Mo., tornado relief initiative. The tournament also raised $50,00 for the First Tee of Kansas City organization, which works toward improving the lives of young people through introduction to the game of golf.