A SOCKLESS Fred Couples almost stole the show as Tiger Woods returned from five months in the sin bin to an overwhelmingly warm response from the golfing public as a fascinating first round of the 2010 US Masters unfolded today.
Couples was wearing what some called his “slippers”* as he seemingly effortlessly shot a six under par 66 to become the first 50 year old ever to have an outright lead at the Masters.
He was one ahead of a clutch of players on five under that included 60 year old Tom Watson, who came into his element when the wind came up earlier in the day and went on to shoot his best Masters round in 20 years.
There were two others in the over 50 brigade also under par and as one commentator perhaps untidily suggested: who would have thought the first round of the 2010 Masters would be a “day for the aged”?
If 50 is “aged” then we are among those who did. Couples has had a stellar rookie year on the Champions Tour and has won at his last three starts.
If you are still driving the ball 290 yards, you have one of the silkiest swings in world golf and your putter is on fire, it can’t be all that hard to look like it all comes so easily.
In a day of so many storylines, Australia too had an encouraging start with Adam Scott fighting back on his final nine with three straight birdies to be three under. In his first Masters appearance John Senden had a very creditable one under.
Robert Allenby, Marc Leishman and Nathan Green were on even while Geoff Ogilvy fought back to be two over.
Woods, finishing two off the lead at four under, labelled the response he got from the golfing public around the course as “unbelievable”.
“I haven’t heard them cheer this loud in all my years here, “ he said after shooting his best ever opening Master round, a Masters round that for the first time included two eagles for him.
It all seemed like “business as usual” for Woods after five months in the golfing wilderness, except perhaps for an improved course demeanour as Watson and others have commented he should strive to display.
After missing a very gettable eagle putt on the 13th, Woods actually walked off the green with a beaming smile.
It seemed such a shock and I couldn’t recall having seen that type of reaction from him before. And maybe it was something playing partner K J Choi said to him.
Woods was obviously under so much personal scrutiny. I realised at one point during the round that where once you would watch him like a hawk to follow the swing or putting technique, now much of the attention was on his reaction to a bad shot or unlucky bounce.
There were a few dropped clubs in frustration at errant shots, but he is obviously trying to even out the temperament.
That’s a problem the laconic Fred Couples doesn’t seem to have a problem with.
Looking at the names on top of the leaderboard – and we haven’t even mentioned Crazy Phil Mickleson is one of those sitting one off the lead -it should be an enthralling tournament.
* The so called “slippers” Couples has been wearing of late are a non spiked casual style golf shoe from Ecco.