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Couples remains hot

One for the aged

Fred Couples wasn't the only over-50 player with an exceptional opening round with 60-year-old Tom Watson among a group at 5-under, one shot off of the lead.

Watson, who lost last year's British Open in a playoff to Stewart Cink, held the lead for most of the afternoon after shooting 33 on the back nine, becoming the first player in his 60s to shoot under 70 at Augusta National.

"That started the week off very nicely," Watson said. "I think a big part of my success was having my son on the bag. He said, 'Dad, show me. Show me you can still play this golf course.' "

Watson's bogey-free 67 marked the first time he broke 70 at Augusta National since 1997 and matched his lowest score in 37 Masters. (He shot 67 in the final round of the 1977 Masters, which he won.) In fact, Watson has missed the cut in 11 of the past 12 Masters.

Watson made birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 and closed with a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th.

"I wanted to shoot a good score for Michael," Watson said.

Michael Watson's second time carrying his father's bag came after he proposed to his girlfriend on the 13th hole during a practice round Sunday. (She accepted.)

Two other AARP-eligible players were near the top of the leaderboard as 52-year-old Sandy Lyle shot 3-under 69 and 52-year-old Bernhard Langer finished with a 1-under 71. Jack Nicklaus is the oldest Masters champion, winning in 1986 at 46.

Fred Couples, who has won three straight times on the 50-and-over Champions Tour, carried over that success with his lowest score ever at Augusta, a 6-under 66 for a one-shot lead. "I'm driving it very long and fairly straight, and I'm putting ridiculously well out there," he said. "I made a bunch of 6- and 7-footers on the front nine. That was just a huge boost." Couples, 50, had seven birdies and one bogey in a round that evoked memories of his Masters title in 1992. He is tied with Gary Player for the most consecutive cuts made in the tournament with 23. "You're always nervous because no matter what age you are, you want to do well," said Couples, who played a practice round with Tiger Woods on Monday and wore tennis shoes and no socks Thursday. "I felt like it was just one of those rounds where maybe it was good that the wind was blowing when I was playing because I wasn't expecting too much." Having a first-round lead at Augusta usually signals a good weekend. Since 1990, 16 of the 34 men to own or share the top score after the first round have gone on to finish among the top 10. And in the past five Masters, five of the seven first-round leaders finished among the top 10.

Not-so-friendly skies

The skies above Augusta National were not as friendly to Tiger Woods as the galleries. A pair of banners referencing his sex scandal flew over the course. And the company in Ohio that arranged them promised more.

As Woods teed off, a plane pulled a banner reading, "Tiger. Did you mean bootyism?" It referred to his statements that his infidelities resulted from drifting away from Buddhism.

Then at 3:50, apparently the same plane flew over with a banner that read, "Sex addict? Yeah Right. Sure. Me, too."

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the banners were commissioned by an unknown individual or individuals through an advertising agency in Toledo. Jim Miller, who owns Air America Aerial Ad, confirmed his company is responsible for getting the messages airborne but would not reveal who paid for them or how much they cost.

He said there would be a total of six messages throughout the tournament but would not provide other details.

"Keep your eyes open," Miller said. "They'll get better and better."

Chip shots

• Matteo Manassero, the 16-year-old Italian who is the youngest in the field, shot 71. "If I don't play good, I will be sad but not that much," he said. "It's not a tournament that may actually change my life. It's just an experience that I'm privileged to do."

• ESPN treated Tiger Woods' return with great fanfare, using a countdown clock leading up to its live broadcast of his first drive at 1:42. Prohibited from covering Woods live again until its 4 p.m. air time, the network showed his subsequent shots on tape delay.

• Anthony Kim endured a wild back side on his way to 68. He started with three bogeys, made an eagle at 13, another bogey at 14 then closed with three birdies.

• Defending champion Angel Cabrera was at 3-under 33 at the turn. But a double-bogey 7 at 13 sent him tumbling to a 73.

Times wires

Augusta growing on Westwood

After an opening-round 67, an older and wiser Lee Westwood apparently has changed his mind about the course and the tournament. A couple of years ago, the Englishman, 37, said he didn't like Augusta National or playing the Masters. "Over the last few years, I've gradually found a way to plod my way around and feel more comfortable," he said. "I was saying to Billy, my caddie, coming up to the last (hole) that although it's the best I've ever played around here, it's the most comfortable I've felt on the golf course." Westwood had four birdies on the back nine: on the par-3 No. 12, par-5 No. 13, par-5 No. 15 and par-4 No. 18. He came close to winning the British Open at Turnberry last year, needing a birdie on the final hole before three-putting.

Lefty's short game comes through … mostly

An eagle-birdie-birdie stretch on Nos. 13, 14 and 15 propelled Phil Mickelson to 5-under 67. It could have been even better had he holed makeable birdie putts at Nos. 16 and 18. "There's just something about this place that when I get on the golf course, I don't feel like I have to be perfect," Mickelson said. "It relaxes me." The two-time Masters champ was one of two who eagled No. 13. He slammed a driver on the 510-yard par 5 and put a 6-iron 30 feet from the hole. "For that putt to go in on 13 was really a big boost," he said. He rode that momentum for birdies on the 440-yard 14th and 530-yard 15th, making putts that totaled 65 feet to get to 5-under. He pushed a 2-foot putt to the left on the last hole that kept him from taking the lead. "It felt pretty good today," Mickelson said. "I'm able to rely on my short game here if I make a few mistakes, so I'm excited about the upcoming rounds."

Couples remains hot 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 10:44pm]
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