Couples charge surprises no one

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To one one’s surprise, a sparkling, 2nd-round 66 has given blast-from-the-past Fred Couples the lead at the Northern Trust Open.

A sparkling 5-under 66 put blast-from-the-past Fred Couples into a two-shot clubhouse lead at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles, before bad light caused Friday’s second round to be suspended with 20-odd players still out on the course.

Couples hasn’t won on the US PGA Tour since his 2003 Houston Open triumph, but his appearance on top of the leaderboard on Friday evening surprised no one in the strong field.

The smooth-swinging, 51-year-old, though handicapped by a troublesome back, and because of it, a limited playing schedule, knows the storied Riviera Country Club layout like the back of his hand and has always been inspired by it to up his ante.

“We know he loves this golf course,” England’s World No 6 Paul Casey told the media after carding a four-under-par 67 to finish four strokes behind Couples heading into the weekend.

“He plays very well around here. Freddie is just a legend. It just shows that this golf course is maybe not all about young, brute power.

“Freddie is struggling to hit the ball the way he wants, and yet he knows every nook and cranny of this course. Eight under is an absolutely phenomenal score because it wasn’t easy the last couple days.”

Couples, who triumphed here in 1990 and 1992, rolled in an stunning, 100-foot eagle putt at the par-five first and picked up three more birdies on his way to matching the lowest score of the week with his flawless second round 66,

Fellow countryman JB Holmes and Australia’s John Senden were in the clubhouse on six under after both shot 69s, while another American, Spencer Levin, was also two shots off the lead having completed 15 holes when play was suspended.

Holmes would have been in a share of the lead with Couples had he not followed successive birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th with a double bogey at the 18th.

Senden too dropped a shot at the final hole, but it didn’t matter too much because in truth the man who stole the show on Friday was Couples, a winner of 15 PGA Tour titles.

On his sparkling second round Couples said: “I’ve played 150 rounds on this course probably. I don’t think anyone in this field has played as many rounds as I have, so that’s an advantage for me.”

And on his back he said: “When it does hinder me a little bit, I know how to get around IT and when to not try and hit a shot that I may think I could when I’m healthy.

“I also don’t practise.”

He also keeps his warm-ups to a minimum.

“I hit 40 five-woods or rescues, and I hit about 10 drivers and then I go tee off,” he said. “I refuse to bend over and try to hit wedges or nine-irons, and it’s okay.

“It’s not the perfect way of warming up by any means, but I do get through the warm-up. I get on the course and I get going. I feel pretty good.”

Six players followed Couples and the second-placed Holmes, Sendin and Levin in a share of fifth place on five under, including Kevin Na who also shot a 66, Americans Ryan Moore and Stewart Cink, back-from-injury Trevor Immelman of South Africa and Australians Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley.

Baddeley had four holes of his second round still to play.

Casey and fellow Englishman Justin Rose were level with Vijay Singh on four under after a 67 and a 69 respectively, but

Scotland’s Martin Laird, who held a share of the nine-man lead after the opening round, could only manage a 73 to slip down the leaderboard to two under par.

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