Rusty Couples again thrives at Riviera

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WASHINGTON — Rusty though he was after playing very little golf for five months, Fred Couples once again found form at his beloved Riviera Country Club in the Northern Trust Open on Thursday.

Report by Reuters

The former world No 1, who is competing in the PGA Tour event for a record 31st time, opened with a three-under-par 68 at a venue he ranks as one of his all-time top three on the circuit.

Not only did Couples finish just four strokes off the early lead set by fellow American Matt Kuchar, but he outscored one of his two playing partners, Masters champion Bubba Watson, by a staggering nine shots.

“Obviously Bubba didn’t play well today,” the 53-year-old Couples, who has limited his playing schedule in recent seasons due to lingering back injuries, told reporters after mixing five birdies with two bogeys in dazzling sunshine at Riviera.

“I had a great pairing. Lee (Westwood) is phenomenal, a great player and hits the ball awfully clean and sharp.”

British world No 8 Westwood, the other member of the high-profile trio, also carded a 68.

“For me, I actually played very, very well,” said Couples, who was champion here in 1990 and 1992. “It’s always fun playing here.

“Last year I opened up with a 69 and this year with a 68, so I hope to come out and play well tomorrow, hit the ball solid and have another good round.”

Couples, who has recorded 14 top-10 finishes in his 30 previous starts at Riviera, was surprised how well he fared on Thursday after barely competing since he pulled out of the Champions Tour’s Boeing Classic in August due to back problems.

“Yeah I am (surprised), because I didn’t play very well (in practice) yesterday or Tuesday and I have not been playing really since August when I hurt myself,” the laidback American with the ultra-smooth swing said.

“I have not really practised much . . . I just don’t feel like I’m quite ready to bang balls at a pace. So it’s surprising, but again I can figure my way out around this course.”