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Couples' share of lead just one opening-round surprise

ORLANDO — Fred Couples made four birdies in his opening six holes, shot 5-under 65, and golf finally felt fun. Tiger Woods couldn't hit the green with a wedge, struggled to shoot par and finally looked human.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational delivered a few surprises Thursday, none bigger than the 48-year-old Couples booming tee shots, taking only 23 putts and finishing atop the leaderboard with J.J. Henry.

"This doesn't make me the guy to beat," Couples said. "If I can play like that, it makes it a lot easier. When you birdie four out of the first six holes, there's not much that can bother you."

In three previous trips to Bay Hill, Henry's best had been 71. He played without a bogey, making four birdie putts outside 15 feet.

"I feel like I've been close," he said. "And today, finally, everything clicked."

They were a stroke ahead of defending champ Vijay Singh, Lee Westwood, Tom Lehman and Lucas Glover, who got a pep talk from friends to quit being hard on himself. Despite consecutive bogeys, Glover kept his cool and ended a streak of eight consecutive rounds without breaking 70.

For Couples, it was his best score at Bay Hill since 63 in 1992, the year he won this tournament and was No. 1 in the world.

Woods is the world's No. 1 player now, having won every tournament he has played since September. It sure didn't look that way after a birdie on the opening hole. He missed one green with a pitching wedge, another green with a sand wedge, and settled for 70 that left him five shots behind, but not in awful shape.

He didn't make a lot of putts, and Woods attributed that to each green having a different speed.

But he took some of the blame.

"You had to make adjustments on the fly," he said. "It would have helped if I hit more greens. I never gave myself a chance to make putts. I missed two greens with a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. I don't ever do that."

Playing aggressively with a driver he could trust, Couples rarely had more than wedge into the green, and the suspect condition of the putting surfaces — they are recovering from a worm disease — didn't bother him.

"I'm not saying they're bad," Couples said. "But I think I'm a good putter when they're not ideal."

EUROPEAN/ASIAN: Mikko Ilonen and Tony Carolan both shot 5-under 67 to share the first-round lead in the inaugural Ballantine's Championship at Jeju Islando, the tour's first event in South Korea.

K.J. Choi, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour, and British Open champ Padraig Harrington opened with 71s.

"As the world No. 5 I am not satisfied," Choi said. "There is a problem with my short game and my swing."

Couples' share of lead just one opening-round surprise 03/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:38am]
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