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Scottish amateur surprises even himself by shooting 70 Couples gets good news on and off the course

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TROON, Scotland -- A local player whose career and life has been filled with mostly sad endings came up with a surprisingly happy start in the 126th British Open at Royal Troon yesterday.

Barclay Howard, 44, a Scottish amateur who missed in his first 11 attempts to qualify for the Open, was briefly tied for the lead at 4-under-par before finishing with an opening-round 70, 1-under.

"Absolutely delighted about it," said Howard, who lives just west of Glasgow and is the country's amateur match-play champion. "I think shock. I was a bit worried, you know, about the back nine. I thought I could shoot millions here."

With the help of a crowd that included some friends from his home club, and knowledge that his mother was watching from a hospital where she is recovering from recent surgery, Howard found himself in an unfamiliar spotlight.

A recovering alcoholic who attends support meetings, Howard was uncertain about his plans last night. Asked if he would have a 'pint', Howard said, "No. I can guarantee if somebody invites me for a pint, I'm going to have 20. I am not going to have one."

Howard was once banned from playing tournaments at his club for a year because he verbally abused some fans when he was drunk. He admittedly carried six cans of lager beer in his golf bag to "keep his muscles loose".

"I couldn't comprehend what an alcoholic actually is," he said. "I changed from being a pleasant guy into an idiot."

Howard has at least become a good player again. He was a member of the 1995 Walker Cup team -- the amateur version of the Ryder Cup -- and will represent his country again next month when the competition is held at Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale, N.Y.

Couples' father improves

The best news Fred Couples got wasn't the 69 he shot yesterday. It came recently when he was told his father, Tom, had taken positive steps in his battle with leukemia.

The elder Couples has had chemotherapy and lost 35 pounds. But recently he has regained some weight and his blood count has improved.

It has allowed his famous son to concentrate more on his game. Fred has struggled this season, distracted by his father's illness and the end of another relationship. He hasn't had a Top-10 finish since his tie for seventh at The Masters.

Then again, he has played only four tournaments in the past three months.

Montgomerie woes continue

For the third consecutive year and the fifth time in the past six Opens, Colin Montgomerie started poorly. After getting to 2-under through six holes, Montgomerie bogeyed the next four and six of the next seven. He finished at 5-over 76.

"I've done badly in British Opens before, and as we said Tuesday, it's nothing new to me," said Montgomerie, who grew up next to Royal Troon where his father, James, will soon retire as the secretary.

Wind changes club choices

The wind played havoc with club selection when the players turned onto the back nine.

No one was more aware of it than Tiger Woods. On the 457-yard 15th hole, he had 165 yards to the hole on his second shot. Normally, for him, that would mean a 9-iron. With the wind in his face, it meant Woods used a 4-iron.

Someone asked Woods when was the last time he hit a club that long so short?

"When I was 11," he said. "It's been awhile."

Pub Date: 7/18/97

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