'I haven't been in any kind of contention for three or four years,' Couples said. 'So for anyone who tells you it's like riding a bike, it's not like riding a bike.'
The 43-year-old Couples, winless in five years, shot a 7-under 67 on Thursday to take a one-stroke lead over Stuart Appleby in the suspended first round. Early Friday, David Peoples and Tom Pernice Jr. finished their opening rounds at 68 to join Appleby one stroke back.
'It's fun,' Couples said. 'It's nerve-racking and when you do things correctly it is fun.'
Couples, who played at the University of Houston before turning pro in 1980, had eight birdies, including five en route to a 5-under 30 on his final nine holes.
'I had a great day,' he said. 'I hit a lot of very good shots and made a lot of putts.'
That hasn't always been the case since he faded from the big years of the early 1990s when he was among the top players in the world and everything had come together for him.
'I was used to doing it 10 years ago, eight years ago,' he said. 'And now it's getting back to that point.'
His last victories came in 1998 in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and The Memorial, but by 2001 he slipped to 131st on the money list. He was 103rd in earnings last year and had only two top-10 finishes.
Couples, however, has finished no worse than 13th -- and twice in the top 10 -- in his last four tournaments.
'Every time I get in this position I need to work on that,' he said. 'I get back to where I can get out of the top 20s, into the top 10s, then maybe do some damage on a Saturday, Sunday there some time in the future.'
Seventy-two golfers did not finish the first round Thursday because of darkness after play was suspended for 31/2 hours because of thunderstorms.
Appleby, whose 68 included an eagle on the par-5 15th hole, notched his last victory at this event in 1999 when it was played at the TPC at The Woodlands. This year the tournament was moved from The Woodlands complex after a 28-year run to the new sprawling 7,508-yard, par-72 Redstone Golf Club layout designed by Peter Jacobsen, who carded a 5-under 67.
'Absolutely,' he said when asked if his knowledge of the course aided him.
His only bogey came on the 18th hole when an errant drive landed in mulch around a tree he specifically had planted during the design process. The tree was in the way of his backswing and he clipped it with his 9-iron.
'We planted those trees there to tighten up the 18th hole,' he said. 'I paid the price.'
Jacobsen said it was no surprise to him that Couples was leading the tournament because he 'has always been one of the most talented players on the PGA Tour.'
'He needs to be inspired to play good golf because he's done it for so many years,' Jacobsen said. 'Wouldn't surprise me a bit to see him win this tournament. He is inspired.'
Divots: Ernie Els and John Daly shot 69s. ... Couples is bidding to become the first University of Houston golfer to win the tournament, which is the 10th oldest on the PGA Tour.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.