Tiger chases Couples

2010-04-09 18:06
Tiger Woods (File)
Augusta - After a brilliant opening round that marked his return to golf, Tiger Woods teed off Friday with a shot into the trees at the Masters.

Woods knocked his second shot off the pine straw and around a tree, running out to see his ball come up just short of a greenside bunker on the left. From there, he chipped up to 2 feet and made a par-saving putt to stay at 4 under.

At the second hole, Woods matched an earlier birdie by first-round leader Fred Couples to stay two strokes off the pace. Both players went at the par-5 layout much the same way, knocking their second shots just over the green on the back right, and then chipping up for short birdie putts.

They were also making fashion statements. Couples went with the white tennis shoes - no socks, of course - while Woods sported sunglasses between shots on a bright, warm day that was expected to last through the weekend after heavy overnight showers.

At 50, Couples is the oldest golfer to lead outright after the opening round at Augusta National, starting out with 6-under 66. Woods returned from a five-month layoff caused by a stunning sex scandal by shooting a 68, his best opening round ever in the Masters.

Couples started Friday 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.

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.

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 he'd never been away.

By the third hole of the Masters, Woods 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 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.

Couples, who played a practice round with Woods on Monday, 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."


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