Couples claims Masters lead

2010-04-09 06:48
Fred Couples (AP)
Augusta - Fred Couples is old enough to play on the 50-and-over circuit, but he's not ready for the old folks home just yet. In fact, he could be on the verge of major golf championship history.

The 50-year-old American birdied four of the last seven holes to fire a six-under par 66 Thursday and seize a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the 74th Masters, leading an impressive showing from the oldies but goodies.

"I'm not surprised, but I'm thrilled," Couples said. "I thought I could come here and play well, because I have been playing well."

Couples could become the oldest winner in major golf history, breaking the mark of Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship, and the oldest Masters winner, surpassing Jack Nicklaus at age 46 in 1986.

"You're always nervous because no matter what age you are, you want to do well," Couples said. "I felt like today was just one of those rounds where maybe it was good the wind was blowing because I wasn't expecting too much.

"Once I got going, I just kept making putts and ended up 6 under."

Couples has won three Champions Tour events in a row this year after taking second in his debut in the 50-and-over series. The 1992 Masters champion has shown impressive form and gained confidence with every triumph.

"It's just happening," Couples said. "No work on the putting. There's no change of a stroke. It has just happened.

"I'm hitting the ball very well and the putting has become the best thing in my game. I always felt like I could hit the ball, but when I'm making eight and 10 footers for pars and birdies, it makes my game a lot easier.

"Then I can be a little bit more of an attack player instead of trying to roll a 25-foot birdie close and tap it in. I've been a little more aggressive and made a couple extra longer putts, which will help shoot the scores I've been shooting."

Experience is a valuable asset for Couples, who knows the areas of Augusta National to avoid and the ones where he can throw patience to the wind.

Couples made the cut in 23 Masters in a row before missing out the past two years and made a run to third as recently as 2006.

"I can play this golf course under a lot of circumstances and again when I was out there today, I knew once I got in and I took away all of the 5-unders that were out there," Couples said. "That's by being here so long. So I knew I could be patient.

"I wasn't expecting to shoot 4-under the back nine but I did and here I am."

Couples was not the only senior superstar on the day. Tom Watson, a 60-year-old legend fresh from his runner-up effort at last year's British Open, was among five rivals one stroke behind Couples on 67.

Scotland's Sandy Lyle, 52, was on 69 in a share of 12th with German veteran Bernhard Langer, also 52, on 71.

"For Tom Watson, I can only tell you he didn't make a bogey, he made five birdies," Couples said. "It's a great start for the older guys. I know Sandy Lyle played well and so did Langer. It's course knowledge."

Scores on Thursday during the first round of the 74th Masters at the par-72 Augusta National Golf Club (a denotes amateur):

66 - Fred Couples (USA) 34-32

67 - Tom Watson (USA) 34-33, Lee Westwood (ENG) 35-32, Phil Mickelson (USA) 35-32, Yang Yong-Eun (KOR) 35-32, K.J. Choi (KOR) 35-32

68 - Anthony Kim (USA) 33-35, Nick Watney (USA) 34-34, Ian Poulter (ENG) 34-34, Tiger Woods (USA) 33-35, Ricky Barnes (USA) 36-32

69 - David Toms (USA) 35-34, Sandy Lyle (SCO) 35-34, Trevor Immelman (RSA) 36-33, Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 35-34, Adam Scott (AUS) 37-32

70 - Francesco Molinari (ITA) 35-35, Soren Kjeldsen (DEN) 33-37, Zach Johnson (USA) 35-35, Yuta Ikeda (JPN) 37-33, Matt Kuchar (USA) 33-37

71 - Bernhard Langer (GER) 33-38, John Senden (AUS) 36-35, Steve Marino (USA) 33-38, Dustin Johnson (USA) 37-34, Mike Weir (CAN) 36-35, Matteo Manassero (ITA -a) 35-36, Ernie Els (RSA) 35-36, Hunter Mahan (USA) 37-34, Robert Karlsson (SWE) 36-35, Ben Crane (USA) 36-35

72 - Nathan Green (AUS) 36-36, Heath Slocum (USA) 36-36, John Merrick (USA) 36-36, Jerry Kelly (USA) 35-37, Marc Leishman (AUS) 38-34, Bill Haas (USA) 35-37, Ryo Ishikawa (JPN) 35-37, Robert Allenby (AUS) 39-33, Ryan Palmer (USA) 35-37, Ryan Moore (USA) 36-36, Sean O'Hair (USA) 36-36, Kenny Perry (USA) 36-36, Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP) 37-35

73 - Scott Verplank (USA) 36-37, Brad Benjamin (USA -a) 38-35, Angel Cabrera (ARG) 33-40, Ben Curtis (USA) 38-35, Steve Stricker (USA) 37-36

74 - Brian Gay (USA) 34-40, Nathan Smith (USA -a) 35-39, Geoff Ogilvy (AUS) 40-34, Luke Donald (ENG) 39-35, Todd Hamilton (USA) 35-39, Retief Goosen (RSA) 35-39, Kevin Na (USA) 37-37, Soren Hansen (DEN) 39-35, Thongchai Jaidee (THA) 37-37, Camilo Villegas (COL) 37-37, Rory McIlroy (NIR) 37-37, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 37-37, Padraig Harrington (IRL) 37-37

75 - Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 36-39, Graeme McDowell (NIR) 40-35, Mark O'Meara (USA) 38-37, Rory Sabbatini (RSA) 36-39, Tim Clark (RSA) 35-40, Alvaro Quiros (ESP) 36-39, Paul Casey (ENG) 36-39, Justin Leonard (USA) 37-38, Steve Flesch (USA) 40-35, Ben Martin (USA -a) 36-39, John Rollins (USA) 34-41, Jason Duffner (USA) 36-39, Shingo Katayama (JPN) 38-37

76 - Martin Kaymer (GER) 38-38, Larry Mize (USA) 37-39, Vijay Singh (FIJ) 38-38, Edoardo Molinari (ITA) 37-39, Lucas Glover (USA) 37-39, Stewart Cink (USA) 35-41, David Duval (USA) 35-41

77 - Simon Dyson (ENG) 38-39, Ben Crenshaw (USA) 40-37, Ross Fisher (ENG) 39-38

78 - Oliver Wilson (ENG) 40-38, An Byeong-Hun (KOR -a) 39-39, Chris Wood (ENG) 41-37

79 - Craig Stadler (USA) 42-37, Chad Campbell (USA) 38-41, Han Chang-won (KOR) 39-40

80 - Anders Hansen (DEN) 39-41, Jim Furyk (USA) 36-44, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 41-39

81 - Ian Woosnam (WAL) 41-40

83 - Michael Campbell (NZL) 41-42

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