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Couples contending

Tournament favorite attracts big gallery in first round, as he plays with Watson, O’Meara.

March 05, 2010|By Tony Lee

NEWPORT BEACH — Fred Couples said he doesn’t know Newport Beach Country Club’s course design any better than after Wednesday’s pro-am round.

Ignorance may be bliss because Couples managed to post a five-under-par 66 in Friday’s opening round of the Toshiba Classic and only trails leaders Bob Tway, Mark Wiebe and Chien Soon Lu by one stroke.

As the only player on the Champions Tour to average over 300 yards per drive, Couples also took advantage of the 6,591-yard course by hitting nothing less than a nine iron into non-par threes.

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“I drove it really well which made the round seem pretty easy,” the 50-year-old Champions Tour rookie said. “A lot of times on some of the better driving holes, I hit a bomb up there.”

However, Couples said hitting it far is not the No. 1 priority in his game.

“I need to be careful on putting,” he said. “I don’t ever pay any attention except for what’s going on around the greens.”

Couples said that after he blasted his 20-foot birdie putt 10 feet by on the 549-yard par five third hole, he adjusted quickly to the course’s fast greens.

Though he had no three putts in the round, Couples still tallied 31 putts Friday — almost four putts higher than his season average (27.33).

“From that point on, any time I have a 20-, 25-footer, I wasn’t going to be bold,” he said. “Because if they’re not going to go in, they’re going to be five feet by. They are very tricky greens.”

Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, totaled six birdies Friday, two from hitting the green on regulation in two on par fives, and his lone bogey came from a pushed four iron.

“I probably tried to hit a better shot than I should’ve,” he said of his pushed shot into the 203-yard par three eight. “Then I turned around and hit a good drive and sand wedge to about five feet on nine for birdie, and hit a wedge on 10 to three feet and made birdie.”

Couples looked to be dealing with the sore lower back that limited him to only one pro-am outing this week and living up to his nickname “Boom Boom” for hitting the ball far with a smooth, one-two tempo.

However, after his drive on the 437-yard par four 16th trickled into the first cut of rough, Couples pulled his approach shot and held onto his lower back immediately.

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