Archive for Friday, April 25, 2003

Couples in control at Houston

April 25, 2003

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— Fred Couples continued the quest for his first PGA Tour victory in five years with a 7-under-par 65 that gave him a one-stroke lead Thursday over Stuart Appleby in the rain-interrupted opening round of the Houston Open.

Couples, who played college golf at the University of Houston before turning pro in 1980, had eight birdies -- including five while shooting a 30 on the back nine.

"I had a great day," he said. "I hit a lot of very good shots and made a lot of putts. I played well."

Play was suspended for 31/2 hours early in the day and didn't resume until shortly after noon as a line of thunderstorms passed through. That meant many players didn't tee off until late afternoon, and 72 couldn't finish their rounds as darkness fell.

Players set to resume their opening rounds today included Carl Paulson, a non-winner on tour who was 6-under after 16 holes, and Tom Pernice, at 6-under through 15. Briny Baird, another non-winner, was 5-under through 11 holes.

Appleby's round included an eagle on the par-5 15th hole. His last win came at this event in 1999, when it was played at the TPC at The Woodlands. This year, the tournament was moved to the new, sprawling 7,508-yard Redstone Golf Club layout designed by Peter Jacobsen.

Jacobsen, admitting his knowledge of the course helped him, was in group of four golfers -- including defending champion Vijay Singh -- at 67.

Eight players finished at 68 and another large group, including Ernie Els and John Daly, was at 69.

Couples is trying to regain the form that made him one of the world's top golfers in the 1990s. He hasn't won since a pair of victories in 1998.

Golfer Fred Couples wipes his face while waiting to putt on the
fifth green. Couples shot a 7-under 65 Thursday at the Houston
Open.

Golfer Fred Couples wipes his face while waiting to putt on the fifth green. Couples shot a 7-under 65 Thursday at the Houston Open.

"I haven't been in any kind of contention for three or four years," he acknowledged. "So for anyone who tells you it's like riding a bike, it's not like riding a bike."

But he's challenged himself to make improvements in his game, and that's led to top-10 finishes in two of his last four outings.

"It's been getting better," Couples said. "Every time I get in this position I need to work on that."

He wants to play himself into the top 10 and hopes to be in position to make a run for the title in the final two rounds.

Appleby began the year with a sixth-place finish at the tour opener in Hawaii, but his game has faltered since.

"It's been definitely a drought in the last few months," he said. "I am certainly not playing at the level that I want to play and know I can play at."

Jacobsen, 10th last week at the MCI Heritage while shooting four rounds under 70, was pleased with his 67.

"If I had known this is how it goes, I would have got involved in golf course design long ago," he said with a laugh. "It felt great."

His lone bogey was on the 18th hole, where his drive missed the fairway and stopped in some mulch around a tree he specifically planted while designing the course.

"What happened to me is exactly what we wanted to have happen," he said. "It's the last hole. If you come in here with a one-stroke lead or you need a birdie you better hit a good drive. I paid the price."

Divots: The estimated $5.2 million raised for Houston-area charities with this week's Shell-sponsored tournament will push the cumulative total for all PGA Tour charitable contributions to $750 million since the first $10,000 donation from a Palm Beach, Fla., tournament in 1938. Total PGA Tour contributions reached $100 million in 1987, passed $500 million in 2000 and could top $800 million by the end of this year. ... Singh, in a good early position with his opening-round 67, is trying to become the first player to win this event in consecutive years. Jack Burke Jr., Arnold Palmer, Mike Souchak, Bruce Crampton and Curtis Strange are multiple winners here. ... The Houston Open, first played in 1946 with Byron Nelson the winner, is the PGA Tour's 10th-oldest event.

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