By Steve Virgen
2:05 AM EDT, March 16, 2013
NEWPORT BEACH — Tom Watson, the Hall of Famer with 39 PGA Tour victories, is not just a fan favorite, but loved just as much by the golfers on the Champions Tour.
Rocco Mediate and Steve Elkington, both making their debuts at the Toshiba Classic, said they have always looked up to Watson as a hero.
When asked how that made him feel, Watson said, "Old."
Watson said he watched a recent David Feherty interview of Jack Nicklaus, when the golf legend was asked if he could still play.
"Jack said, yes," Watson said. "But in reality he said, 'I just can't do it anymore.' And there's going to come a time where I will go through this passage and I'll enter the next passage of my life where I can't do what I used to be able to do. And there's times when I am playing right now, I'm starting to question myself. Is it getting close? Is it getting closer to that time? But no, I still come up with I can still do it."
Watson shot one-under-par 70 in the first round and is tied for 25th.
He played with first-round leader David Frost as well as Michael Allen.
Frost, who leads at -8, said Watson provided inspiration throughout his first round.
"It was an honor to play with a guy like Tom Watson," Frost said. "I played quite a few rounds of golf with him the last eight or 10 years or so, and if you think of the legend that he is and the mark that he leaves behind in golf, I just feel fortunate enough to be in his company on the Champions Tour. It's nice to hit good shots in front of a great player, you know, and I've been fortunate enough to play with all the greats of the game. And always admired his ball striking and I really think that he's the best ball striker that I have ever played with."
The Toshiba Classic has creative plans in store with St. Patrick's on Sunday that can be lucrative for golf fans. There's a chance to win $1 million with a hole-in-one on the 185-yard No. 17.
The Pot of Gold Social Media Scavenger Hunt, which began Friday, intends to attract fans via Facebook and Twitter. Each day of the tournament, there will be "gold coins," hidden throughout the course with clues being revealed on Facebook and Twitter.
The coins can be redeemed for food and other prizes.
On Sunday, during the final round, the one who finds the "Pot of Gold" coin will win a prize package from Toshiba, tickets to the 2014 Toshiba Classic and the chance to win $1 million. The chance for the hole-in-one will take place after the awards ceremony.
The only way people can win is to be at the tournament and follow the clues on-site via social media.
In addition to the game, the lake at 17 will be colored green for St. Patrick's Day.
Esteban Toledo, an Irvine resident and a former Newport Beach Country Club honorary member, shot three-under par in the first round and is tied for eighth.
He is playing despite the death of his older brother, Mario, who passed away last week.
Toledo finished with five birdies and two bogeys in his first round.
John Cook, who owns a home in Corona del Mar, had a bit of a wild round Friday.
He had five of his six bogeys on the front nine, and then birdied the last four holes to finish one-over and tied for 47th.
Greg Hopkins, a Newport Beach resident, is playing in the Toshiba Classic once again on a sponsor's exemption.
Hopkins played in the same group as Toledo and Jim Rutledge.
Hopkins shot eight over and is at the bottom of the tournament.
Frost's bogey-free 63 is his best score in 10 career rounds at the Toshiba Classic, and it's his second-lowest in his Champions Tour career.
Toshiba Classic defending champion Loren Roberts opened with a 2-under 69 (tied for 17th), marking the fifth straight year he's started the Toshiba Classic with a round in the 60s. Roberts' 69 also extends a streak of sub-par scores at Newport Beach to 11 straight rounds.
Bart Bryant withdrew from the tournament before the round due to the flu and was replaced by Don Pooley. Pooley made his first start in a Champions Tour event since last year's Toshiba Classic and carded a 3-over 74.
In addition to Frost, Chien Soon Lu (67), Peter Senior (68), Mark Brooks (68), Wayne Levi (69) and Olin Browne (69) all had bogey-free rounds.
Fred Couples, who is in second and a shot behind Frost, was introduced as being from Newport Beach when he started at No. 1.
Couples lives in La Quinta, but said he lived in Newport Beach in the 1980s. He said he's cool with being introduced as a Newport Beach native. That's how he was introduced in 2010, when he won the Toshiba Classic.