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San Diego Open Golf : Couples Is Back, His 63 Leads by a Stroke

February 19, 1988|CURT HOLBREICH | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Fred Couples left the Phoenix Open in a huff. He pulled out of the Hawaiian Open. Went straight home to La Quinta to ponder and practice.

Put two shots into the water on No. 18, the last one on the deciding hole of a sudden-death playoff in Phoenix, and you, too, might not want be the PGA Tour's social chairman for the week.

"After what happened in Phoenix, I withdrew from Hawaii," Couples said. "I didn't feel like going. I just went home and practiced."

The time away must have worked because Couples' disposition could not have been any finer Thursday after he shot a nine-under-par 63 to take the first-round lead in the Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course.

Couples was just one stroke off the North Course record of 62 held by Andy Bean and Craig Stadler.

One shot behind Couples was Phil Blackmar with a 64, also on the North Course. Tom Watson was alone in third place at 65, but he played the longer and tougher South Course.

"It seems like if you don't shoot about a 68 on the North Course, you're losing ground," Couples said.

But Couples was not complaining. His round was the tonic he needed after his embarrassing collapse at Phoenix two weeks ago.

Couples had a one-shot lead entering the 72nd hole at Phoenix, but he hooked his tee shot in the water and made bogey, forcing a playoff with Sandy Lyle. After playing the first two holes of sudden death, Couples again faced the water on the 18th hole and again put his tee shot into the lake.

Lyle won the tournament with a bogey, and Couples took a double bogey.

"That was same club I had hit all week on that hole," Couples said. "I still feel it was the right club. If I had to do it all over again, I'd use the same club."

But, as for his tournament-leading 63 at Torrey Pines, Couples had little trouble with water hazards or much of anything else.

He had 10 birdies and one bogey after starting his round with a one-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole. He finished with birdies on the 7th, 8th and 9th, with putts of between 3 and 5 feet.

"It didn't seem easy, but I just stayed aggressive, and I made some putts," Couples said.

Seven players shot 66, but only Hal Sutton's came on the South Course. Shooting 66s on the North were San Diego's Jack Renner, Willie Wood, Dave Barr, Mark Calcavecchia, John Cook and Gary Koch, the 1984 Andy Williams champion.

Koch's round was helped by a hole-in-one on the 185-yard, No. 12. "I hit it about eight feet from the cup," Koch said. "It took two bounces and went right in."

Among the five players tied at 67 is reigning U.S. Open champion Scott Simpson of San Diego. George Burns, defending Andy Williams champion, is tied with 15 players at 68. Both Simpson and Burns played the North Course.

Only 50 of the 154 players failed to shoot par (72 on both courses) or better. But Seve Ballesteros was one of those.

Ballesteros, making his 1988 PGA Tour debut, had a 73 on the South Course after making the turn at three-over-par 39.

The players will switch courses today before the field is cut to the low 70 scores (including ties) for Saturday and Sunday. The final two rounds will be played on the South Course.

The difference between the two courses is considered significant enough for Simpson to joke, "Here comes the real leader," when Sutton, who finished ahead of Watson, entered the interview area.

And when Watson was asked if he felt like the "true" leader after posting his 65 on the South Course, he just laughed.

"I don't see that bond in my pocket," he said, referring to a $10,000 bond that goes to leader after each round.

Watson, who had seven birdies and no bogeys, said he felt fortunate to be so close to the lead after a rough first six holes.

"I started off a little shaky, but was two-under after four holes despite missing two greens," he said. "I got away with my mistakes on the first six holes and that was the key to my day."

Watson made a 30-foot putt for birdie at the second hole, chipped in from 35 feet for a birdie at the fourth and made an 8-foot putt for birdie at the par-5 sixth, after putting his second shot into a bunker. He played a strong back nine, making consecutive birdies at 13, 14, and 15, and two-putting from 70 feet for a birdie at the par-5 18th.

Tournament Notes Gary Koch's hole-in-one was the fourth on the PGA Tour this season and Koch's 10th of his career. . . . Bob Eastwood, who tied for sixth in Hawaii last week, withdrew Thursday morning for medical reasons, said a PGA Tour spokesman. . . . Doug Tewell withdrew because of a back ailment after completing the back nine of the South Course in a six-over-par 42.

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