AUGUSTA, Ga. – What year is it anyway?
Fifty-year-old Fred Couples leads the Masters. Sixty-year-old Tom Watson is one stroke behind. A pair of 52-year-olds, Sandy Lyle and Bernhard Langer, also broke par Thursday.
They turned the opening round at Augusta National into old-timers day.
“How about that?” marveled Tiger Woods, who garnered most of the attention coming back from a five-month layoff and a humiliating sex scandal. “Winning breeds winning, winning breeds a lot of confidence. Whether you win on the regular tour, mini-tour, senior tour, it doesn’t matter.”
Couples and Watson still know a thing or two about winning, even though they no longer play regularly on the PGA Tour.
Wearing tennis shoes and no socks, Couples arrived at Augusta coming off three straight wins on the Champions Tour, and he showed he can still keep up with those young whippersnappers, too. He posted the best score of his Masters career, a 6-under 66, to become the tournament’s oldest outright leader after the first round.
“Shocking,” Couples said.
Not really. Like all past champions, he knows his way around this place – every little hump in the green, every little spot you just can’t afford to be. That sort of inside knowledge is strengthened by the unique nature of the Masters, the only major played at the same course every year.
“I know the course very well. I know where to miss shots,” said Couples, who won the Masters in 1992 in the midst of making the cut in 23 straight appearances, matching the tournament record. “When I play well, I should shoot in the 60s here.”
Watson matched his best Masters round ever, a 67 that showed his stirring run in last year’s British Open was no fluke. Then again, he had every reason to be confident after winning a Champions Tour event and finishing sixth at Dubai against a strong field from the European Tour.
Also, the guy on the bag provided plenty of inspiration. Watson’s son, Michael, served as his caddie.
“That was a big treat for me to have him out there,” the father said. “I wanted to show him that I could play Augusta. He said, ‘Dad, you can still do this.”’
Watson hasn’t given up on becoming golf’s oldest major champion. He had a shot to win the British Open last summer at age 59, but missed a par putt on the 72nd hole and lost to Stewart Cink in a playoff.
Shortly after sunrise, Watson went out to watch old friends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer hit the ceremonial tee shots. Then, it was time to play for real.
“It’s a long shot for somebody of our age, honestly, to do it,” Watson said. “But still, they can do it.”
Lyle (69) and Langer (71) are right in the thick of things, as well. The Scotsman put up his lowest Masters score since 1992, while the German was atop the leaderboard for much of the morning before finishing with two straight bogeys.
“It’s just a real blessing to be here in the first place,” said Langer, a two-time winner who missed the cut the last four years. “To be able to play that long and stay competitive, and then have the kind of day that I had today is pretty special.”
Asked if a 50-year-old could win the tournament, the German said it’s definitely possible.
“There’s a handful of us, like Fred Couples, Tom Watson and a handful of others,” Langer said. “I think I’ve proven over the years that I can play this game, and when I play well I can pretty much win anywhere.”
Lyle also felt good about his game, and said beforehand that he still believed he could be somewhat competitive at the Masters for another eight or nine years.
“I’ve been hitting the ball well,” he said coming off the 18th green. “And driving the ball nicely out of the fairway, better than I have in years and years, with plenty of power. And the direction is good. There’s a lot of good shots that I hit out there. That was about as good as I probably could have done.”
Couples failed to make the cut the last two years but we was on his game right from the start this time. He stuck a wedge to 4 feet at No. 1 for a birdie, and followed by making an 8-foot birdie at the par-5 second. His only stumble came at the fifth, where he couldn’t get up and down after an errant iron shot, but he was dead solid perfect on the back side.
He didn’t even have to work that hard for his birdies, four of which were from 10 feet and closer. The only long one was a 20-footer at the par-3 12th.
“To win Augusta at age 50 would be a pipe dream,” Couples said.
If nothing else, he might start a new fashion trend. Couples decided to wear tennis shoes and ditch his socks to help deal with persistent back problems.
It sure seems to be working.
“I wear nothing but tennis shoes,” he said. “I just don’t wear any socks with tennis shoes, and these shoes have been good so far.”
Not everyone in the over-50 crowd fared so well.
Fifty-two-year-old Ian Woosnam shot an 81, the second-worst round of the day. Craig Stadler (56) struggled to a 79, while Ben Crenshaw (58) put up a 77, Larry Mize (51) signed for a 76 and Mark O’Meara (53) managed a 75.
Still, all but Woosnam beat out a pair of golfers who are more recognizable to this generation: Jim Furyk and Henrik Stenson. They both struggled home at 80.
Yep, it was definitely old-timers day at Augusta.
Oldies but goodies in Round 1
AUGUSTA, Ga. – What year is it anyway?
Tiger's driver now a great asset to his game
ATLANTA – Tommy Fleetwood hit a handful of tee shots past Tiger Woods on Thursday at the Tour Championship. But Woods found more fairways [10 to eight] and shot four strokes lower [65 to 69].
Ever since making adjustments to his driver – which included adding loft and changing his shaft – at The Northern Trust, Woods’ long game has become one of his greatest assets.
Woods hit 10 of 14 fairways in the first round at East Lake Golf Club, which led to hitting 14 of 18 greens in regulation. Twenty-eight putts equaled a 5-under round and a share of the lead.
It’s not as though Woods has completely traded distance for accuracy. He hit his drive on the par-5 18th 320 yards and that helped produce an eagle.
It’s more like he now has the ability to control his driver. Those wayward tee shots we had become accustomed to seeing aren’t so offline. That means sometimes he’ll send one 296 yards – like he did on the first hole – and sometimes he’ll gear up and knock one 328 yards – like he did at the fifth.
“[I]f I hit it normal, I hit it just as far. And so that's to me like 300 yards in the air,” he said. “But … the neat thing about this one is that if I miss it and spin it a little bit, those spinners stay in play instead of chasing off on me, and I can turn this ball.
“Like the tee shot I hit down 18, I didn't have that shot earlier with – not enough loft. … [M]y spin rate would be so low that it wouldn't stay in the air.”
“And so, yeah, if I hit controlled shots, they're in play and they're shorter. But if I go ahead and step up and launch one, I'm just as far. The neat thing is I don't have to swing it as hard to hit the ball as far. And so it puts a little less toll on my body. I don't have to have my speed up there at 120, 121, 122 miles an hour to carry it 305, 310 like I did before.”
Often times you hear players talk about aspects of their game and it sounds like they are trying to convince themselves that things are OK. Tiger's actions are backing up his words.
TT postscript: This 65 better than Aronimink 62
ATLANTA – The start wasn’t much to look at, but that finish was something else. Tiger Woods eagled the final hole on Thursday and shares the 18-hole lead at the Tour Championship. Here are the things you know you want to know:
• First of all, let’s give a pat on the back to the man who most deserves it today: Me. Early this morning, I sent this tweet:
Less than an hour until tee time. Gotta good feeling about this week. Let’s set the O/U today at 66.5 on the par 70. And then take the under.— Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) September 20, 2018
Never doubt my good feelings. Ben Crenshaw doesn’t have my good feelings. We may have 54 holes to play, but I gotta good feeling we’re going to be changing that Tiger Tracker avatar Sunday night.
• Now onto Tiger. After all, he did hit 10 of 14 fairways, 14 of 18 greens in regulation and took 28 putts. It wasn’t looking good early when he had nine putts through four holes and was 1 over par. But he birdied Nos. 5 and 6, turned in 1 under, and really turned it on down the stretch with two birdies and an eagle over his final seven holes. And if you take a good look at the scorecard below you’ll notice he didn’t make a bogey after the first hole.
• How good is a 65 at East Lake? Better than his opening 62 at Aronimink, according to Woods: “This was by far better than the 62 at Aronimink. Conditions were soft there. This is – it's hard to get the ball closer. There's so much chase in it. If you drive the ball in the rough, you know you can't get the ball close.”
Woods added that you had to play “conservatively” and be patient – take what the course allowed. Tiger missed five putts – four of them for birdie – inside 15 feet. But in the 93-degree heat, he kept his composure and made putts of 26 and 28 feet for birdie, and 28 feet for eagle.
• This week feels different. It feels like Tiger is really ready to win again. He seems very serious, very focused. He talked about “getting the W” on Wednesday and said on Thursday, “[T]he objective is to always win.”
After shooting 65, Woods signed a few autographs and eventually made his way to the putting green. If he gets those 15-footer to fall, we’re going to be two wins away from tying Sammy.
• So, what about that eagle on 18, you ask? Tiger said he “hammered” a driver – which was listed at 320 yards – and then hit a 5-wood from 256 yards to 28 feet. As for the putt: “It took forever for that putt to start breaking, grain coming down off the left. But once it snagged it, it was going straight right.”
Right into the cup. Right into the lead. Our man is making history this week.
Watch: Highlights from Tiger's first round at East Lake
Tiger Woods is back at the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013, and he provided the fans in Atlanta with some highlights on the first day of competition.
Still looking for his first win of the year after coming close on numerous occasions, Woods started the day off by splitting the fairway on the first hole with the driver, not even bothering to watch his ball land.
Despite the picture-perfect opening tee shot, Woods would go on to bogey the first hole, but he rebounded with back-to-back birdies on 5 and 6, making putts from 26 and 15 feet.
Tiger's best shot on the front nine came on the par-4 seventh hole after he found the pine straw behind a tree with his drive. The 14-time major champ punched one under the tree limbs and onto the green, then calmly two-putted for par from about 40 feet en route to a front-side 1-under 34.
Woods added two more birdies on the par-4 12th and 14th holes, rolling in putts of 3 feet and 7 feet after a couple of great looking approach shots.
Woods finished his round with a vintage eagle on the par-5 18th hole, finding the green with a 5-wood from 256 yards out and then sinking the 28-foot putt.
Co-leader. pic.twitter.com/MMUZ8zptQ9— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 20, 2018
The eagle at the last gave Woods a share of the early first-round lead with Rickie Fowler at 5-under 65.
Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship
Tiger Woods is looking to close his season with a win at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him this week at East Lake Golf Club.
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