Day of surprises

The Baltimore Sun

ORLANDO, Fla. --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 even par, and he finally looked human.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational delivered a few surprises yesterday, none bigger than Couples, 48, booming tee shots, taking only 23 putts and finishing atop the leader board 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 had never done better than 71. He played under warm sunshine 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 champion Vijay Singh, Lee Westwood, Tom Lehman and Lucas Glover, who got a pep talk from friends to quit being so 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 a 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 a 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 the 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."

Woods headed home to sort it out, not overly bothered by his worst start since the Deutsche Bank Championship, which was the last time he failed to win. Besides, only 33 players managed to break par. Phil Mickelson opened with a 72.

Couples woke up early yesterday and began visualizing his round, figuring out where his best chances at birdie would be.

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 in the least.

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

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