Couples leads Masters; Woods two back in return - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Couples leads Masters; Woods two back in return

Augusta, GA (Sports Network) - Fred Couples fired his lowest round ever at The Masters, a six-under 66 on Thursday, and earned the first-round lead at The Masters at Augusta National.

Tiger Woods made his return to golf and it was a triumphant one.

Woods posted a four-under 68, which was the lowest opening-round score in his Masters career.

"I expected to go out there and shoot something under par," acknowledged Woods. "It felt normal. The reception was incredible all day. I was pretty calm all day."

Woods received a strong response from the gallery when he marched to the first tee at 1:42 p.m. (et). It was his first round on the PGA Tour since last year's Tour Championship. He missed the last five months in a self-imposed exile as a sex scandal rocked the four-time winner's world.

Woods posted two eagles on Thursday, a first in his Masters career, and mixed three birdies and three bogeys. He is tied for seventh place.

While Woods dominated the headlines, there were some amazing stories ahead of him on the leaderboard, and not just from the 50-year-old Couples.

Sixty-year-old Tom Watson, two-time champion Phil Mickelson, Woods' playing partner K.J. Choi, world No. 4 Lee Westwood and reigning PGA Champion Y.E. Yang are knotted in second place at five-under 67.

But the story, despite the star power atop the leaderboard, was Woods.

He collected his first birdie at the third, but dropped a shot at seven. Woods eagled the eighth from seven feet and birdied the ninth. Woods lost a stroke at 10, but played well on the back nine.

The No. 1 player in the world had nine feet for eagle at 13, but his putt lipped out. Woods settled for birdie, but bogeyed 14 when his approach sailed well left of the green.

Woods responded with a 10-foot eagle putt at the par-five 15th and was four- under for the championship. He could've gotten to five-under, but a short birdie putt at the last stayed above ground.

"It wasn't a day I could slash it all over the place," said Woods. "I'm very pleased. For the most part, I think I hit the ball well. If I putted well, it could've been a very special round."

Woods was joined in seventh by last week's winner in Houston, Anthony Kim, as well as Nick Watney, Ian Poulter and Ricky Barnes.

Woods was upstaged on Thursday by one of his practice-round partners this week.

Couples, who played with Woods on Monday, came into this year's Masters as perhaps the hottest golfer in the world, although it hasn't come on the PGA Tour.

The 50-year-old has dominated the Champions Tour in 2010. He's won his last three starts on the elder circuit and his only non-victory was a second in his debut to none other than Watson.

"The Champions Tour has been a lot of fun, but this is where I really want to play well and today was a very good day for me," said Couples, who has missed the cut the last two years. "The idea that we're all so old, it's also a blessing if you play well."

The 1992 Masters champion started brilliantly on Thursday with back-to-back birdies at one and two. He dropped a shot at five, but Couples reclaimed the lost stroke with a birdie at the par-five eighth.

After the turn, Couples soared up the leaderboard.

He rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt at the 12th and followed with a five-foot birdie putt at the par-five 13th. Couples parred No. 14, but hit a delicate chip from over the green to four feet at the 15th to set up another birdie.

Couples moved to five-under for the championship and tied for the lead, but a seven-foot birdie putt at the 17th gave him sole possession of first place.

He had a chance to extend the cushion at the last. Couples' approach to the 18th rolled to five feet, but the putt slid by the hole. He tapped in for his 66 and the first-round lead in The Masters for the first time since 1998.

"Today was, I think, as good a round as I've ever played here," said Couples. "I didn't shoot a 66 today because of luck. But tomorrow it's a lot of pressure to be leading and we'll see what happens."

The pressure will come, not just from Woods, but from those a stroke behind.

Watson had a bogey-free round on Thursday with five birdies and no bogeys. He finished in fantastic fashion with three birdies in his last four holes, including a 30-footer at 15, a 12-footer at 16 and a fantastic five-footer at the last.

Watson lost an epic playoff to Stewart Cink at last year's British Open and on Thursday proved that despite being 60, he can still contend for major championships.

"It's a longshot for somebody, still, honestly, of our age to do it. But still, they can do it," said Watson, who hadn't broken 70 at The Masters since 1997. "Over the past several years I've had some issues with my ability to play this golf course. It's a tough golf course for me. Today it was favorable."

It's not a longshot for Mickelson to do it.

The 2004 and 2006 winner also made his move on the back nine.

Mickelson was one-under through 12 holes, then hit a spectacular second shot to 25 feet at the par-five 13th. He ran home the eagle try to kick off a great run for the world No. 3.

Mickelson made a long birdie putt at 14 and two-putted for birdie at the par- five 15th.

"It was a little three-hole stretch that made the whole round," said Mickelson.

He had a seven-foot look at birdie on the last, but his putt snuck past the hole.

Yang, who became the first player to topple Woods when Woods had a third-round lead at a major last year at the PGA, and Choi both mixed six birdies and a bogey on Thursday, while Westwood had seven birdies and two bogeys.

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