Charles Schwab Cup: Fred Couples, Jay Haas share lead after first roundCarl Steward
Mercury News Thursday, November 3, 2011
If the U.S. Presidents Cup team plays the way its mentors did Thursday in the opening round of the Charles Schwab Cup, it should be a jolly time for the Americans in Australia in two weeks.
Cup captain Fred Couples and his chief assistant, Jay Haas, ground out 3-under par 68s to share the first-round Schwab lead on a very tough day at TPC Harding Park, where wind, cold and intermittent rain rendered the course treacherous and made it play long.
Only seven of the 30 top senior players entered in the event managed to break par, and none of them by much. It was quite a change from Wednesday’s pro-am, when the course was dry and conditions near perfect.
“It was about 30 degrees colder and 30 yards shorter,” said Michael Allen, the longtime San Mateo resident, in the best assessment of what the field faced from Wednesday to Thursday. Allen shot a 2-under 69 and was tied for third with David Frost, one shot back of the leaders.
Early, Couples looked as if he might run away and hide when he shot a 5-under 31 on the front nine, but he faded to 2-over on the back and needed a 10-foot birdie on the 18th to get into a tie for the lead.
Despite his lapse, he wasn’t disappointed.
“The most exciting thing is I’ll be playing with Jay (Friday),” Couples said. “We haven’t played much this year, and with what’s going on, we’ll have a good time out there.”
“What’s going on” is considerable ongoing dialogue about Couples’ Presidents Cup
captain’s picks. The former Masters champ spent more than a half-hour Wednesday answering questions and defending his choices of Bill Haas — son of Jay — and this other guy by the name of Tiger Woods. Most of the discussion, of course, was about Woods.
After briefly talking about his round Thursday, it was a lot more of the same. Clearly, Couples is getting a bit exasperated by it all, particularly all the intense preoccupation with Tiger.
“I can sit and talk about Tiger Woods all day, but we have 11 other guys on the team,” Couples said. “We have Phil Mickelson, we have Steve Stricker, we have Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan and Bubba Watson. These are all top players, but it seems like it’s all about Tiger. I’ve picked him, so we’ll just wait until we get to Australia and see how he plays.”
At this point, Couples is past that phase of it and is already contemplating player pairings for the Presidents Cup. He acknowledged that he and Haas might be mulling options while playing side-by-side in the second round.
For his part, Haas said he’ll simply be trying to keep up with Couples, who two weeks ago won the AT&T Championship senior event by seven strokes and shot 23-under in just three rounds. With bigger and better drivers, Couples even admitted he’s hitting the ball farther now than he did when he won the Masters in 1992.
“As long as his back holds up, it’s a huge difference,” Haas said. “I think he’s easily 30 (yards) by me, so that makes a huge difference coming into these greens.”
Couples’ chronic bad back is holding up, too. Earlier this year, his back issues became so severe that he went several days without sleep and contemplated giving up golf for good. But he underwent an experimental treatment called Orthokine-Therapy, which involves injections of proteins into the troubled area, from a doctor in Germany who pioneered the procedure.
Within a week, Couples’ back pain went away completely.
“I almost didn’t even want to go hit golf balls it felt so good,” he said.
This is just Couples’ 11th senior event, and he still could finish second in the Champions Tour points race with a victory at Harding. If Couples wins, that favors Tom Lehman, because it would close out three of the four players who need a victory to catch Lehman in the points race.
Lehman’s doing fine on his own. He’s tied for fifth after shooting a 1-under 70, better than any of the four players who have a chance to beat him. Mark Calcavecchia, who needs to finish first or second to beat out Lehman, shot even-par 71, as did Peter Senior. John Cook rallied to a 2-over 73, and Russ Cochran shot 74. Senior, Cook and Cochran all need to win to have a chance at denying Lehman the points title.
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