Ageless Couples in best shape ever
Posted: Friday, April 9, 2010 2:36 pm
By: By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Wearing white tennis shoes with no socks, Fred Couples teed off today on a cool morning at Augusta National with Tiger Woods getting ready on the practice range.
The 50-year-old Couples shot a 6-under 66 on Thursday, his best round ever at Augusta National and making him the oldest golfer to lead outright after the opening round. He began Day Two with a one-stroke lead over five golfers, including 60-year-old Tom Watson, two-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson and PGA champion Y.A. Yang.
Woods was two strokes back. He was set to tee off at 10:35 a.m. after posting the best-opening round score of his Augusta career, emphatically answering questions about how he would fare coming back from a sex scandal and five-month layoff.
ESPN got the spike everyone expected when Woods announced he would make his return to the game at Augusta, and interest only figures to build if he stays in contention through the weekend. The cable network said its overnight ratings jumped to 3.6 in metered markets from 2.4 a year ago.
After heavy overnight showers, the second round began under sunny skies with temperatures expected to rise into the lower 70s — a forecast that’s expected to hold through the weekend.
Couples teed off with a stiff breeze in his face and hit a booming drive down the left side of the fairway. He had a shot at birdie, but his putt drifted off short and left of the hole to leave him with a par.
On Thursday, Woods picked up where he left off before his image was shattered by reports of serial infidelity. He hit a booming shot down the right side of the fairway — “One of the best drives I’ve ever seen him hit,” swing coach Hank Haney said — and it seemed as if Woods had never been away.
By the third hole of the Masters, he had a birdie on his card.
Five holes later, he calmly rolled in an eagle and broke out that patented fist pump for the first time.
Then at No. 9 came one of those signature Tiger shots, a wicked 5-iron hooked around the pine trees, a line drive that skidded to a stop just above the hole to set up an improbable birdie. He sidestepped out into the fairway to see where it landed, then strolled up to the green and knocked in a 15-foot putt.
“I got into the flow of the round early,” Woods said. “Got into the rhythm of just playing, making shots, thinking my way around the golf course.”
He made it sound so easy.
“I was just pretty calm all day,” Woods said. “I felt this is what I can do. This is what I know I can do. Just go out there and just play. I expected to go out here and shoot something under par.”
That he did, probably exceeding even his own high expectations.
Woods made another eagle at the 15th — the first time he’s ever had two of those in a single round at Augusta — and finished up with a 68. Until Thursday, he had never broken 70 on the first day of the Masters.
Woods pledged to control his emotions on the course, yet there was little change. He twirled his club after a good drive, slammed it after a few bad ones. He pumped his fist when the putts fell, sunk to his knees when they failed to drop — including a birdie attempt on the 16th that slowed his climb up the leaderboard.
As always, he complained about not making enough putts.
“Otherwise, it could have been a very special round,” Woods said.
It still was.
Couples, who played a practice round with Woods on Monday, sauntered along in his unique footwear and showed he still knows his way around the course.
“I never really thought about what I was shooting,” said Couples, who already has won three times this year on the Champions Tour. “It was a fun day for me. I still think I can play, and if I putt well I’ve got to be some kind of factor in my mind.”
Watson, at 60 the oldest player in this Masters, came within a whisker of winning last year’s British Open. It apparently wasn’t a fluke; he had a bogey-free round of 67 that left him tied with Mickelson, Yang, Lee Westwood and K.J. Choi.
“My goals were to play better than I’ve played in the last five or six years, and I achieved that — for the first round,” said Watson, whose magical run at Turnberry ended when he missed an eight-foot putt on the last hole of regulation and then lost a playoff.
“I’m playing pretty well. I’ve said I have to play better than 90 percent to be successful on this golf course.”