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Published: Friday, 2/18/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Couples in lead at Riviera

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Fred Couples holds a two-shot lead at the Northern Trust Open. Fred Couples holds a two-shot lead at the Northern Trust Open.
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LOS ANGELES -- Fred Couples does not look like he belongs atop the leaderboard on the PGA Tour.

Except that he's at Riviera.

Despite a bad back that hurts when he stoops over a short iron, Couples navigated around his favorite tour course without a bogey Friday for a 5-under 66 that gave him a two-shot lead in the Northern Trust Open.

It helped that he knocked in an eagle putt of nearly 100 feet on his opening hole, along with a pair of 30-foot birdie putts. But even for a 51-year-old well past his prime, he was carried along by a languid swing and his love for Riviera.

"I feel like I can play this course blindfolded," Couples said.

Some of his peers couldn't believe what they saw.

"He played like he was my age," said 25-year-old Anthony Kim, who was paired with Couples and was nine shots behind. "He was loose, swinging hard. He hit some quality shots, some aggressive shots. It doesn't hurt that he's won here a couple of times. He just knows what he's doing out here."

Couples first played Riviera three years before Kim was born. He won in 1990 and 1992, back when his hair was brown, not mostly gray, and when he didn't have to get up at 4 a.m. to stretch out his back so he could make it to the first tee.

It was tough for others, too. The wind and rain arrived in the afternoon, making Riviera so difficult that some medium-length hitters couldn't reach the par-4 18th with a driver and a 3-wood.

Of those who didn't finish the round before it was suspended by darkness, Spencer Levin was at 6 under with three holes remaining, while Aaron Baddeley was at 5 under with four holes to play.

Couples has not been atop the leaderboard through 36 holes since 2004 at the old Buick Classic at Westchester.

The affection from the gallery hasn't changed, especially at Riviera.

From the other side of the par-5 first green, Couples rapped a putt and watched it roll some 100 feet toward the cup and drop for an eagle. The cheer was loud enough for players still on the practice range to look up.

One player jokingly said, "Couples just made a 10-footer for par."

Paul Casey, who had a 67 and was four shots back, played in the group behind Couples. Asked how it felt to trail a 51-year-old who can barely bend over to tie his shoes, Casey started laughing.

"Every time I looked ahead, he's stretching his back, his hand is on his hip," Casey said. "We all know Freddie. He looks like he doesn't care. He looks like he's in pain. He could be on any score. And the fact he's on 8 under is brilliant."

Couples was at 8-under 134 heading into what could be a soggy weekend. The rain began to fall late in the afternoon as half of the field was trying to cope with tougher conditions.

J.B. Holmes was tied for the lead until a double bogey on the last hole gave him a 69. He was at 6-under 136, along with John Senden (69).

Trevor Immelman and Stewart Cink each had a 67, perhaps the rounds of the day considering they played the final two hours in the rain and wind. They were at 5-under 137, along with Robert Allenby, whose finish showed how tough it was.

He ripped a driver and hit a full 3-iron that still wasn't enough on the 464-yard ninth hole, and he three-putted from the front of the green for a 70.

Phil Mickelson struggled with his irons on his way to a 70 that put him seven shots behind, although not terribly worried.

"I'm not pleased being in the position where I'm at, but it could be a lot worse," Mickelson said. "And I should be within striking distance if I can go out and shoot some hot round tomorrow."



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