Price, Couples share Wachovia lead after 6-under 66s
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The tournament is new, not the guys leading it.
Fred Couples and Nick Price helped get the Wachovia Championship off to a smashing start Thursday, each posting a 6-under 66 on a Quail Hollow course that left most players wondering if the U.S. Open had moved to May.
''I wouldn't be surprised if in the future there would be either a U.S. Open or a PGA on this golf course, because they can make it as hard as they want to,'' Price said.
It wasn't a brute, not with rain soaking the course for three days leading up to the opening round. Still, Couples was looking ahead to what the next three days might hold.
''You can see what's going to happen,'' he said. ''It's going to firm up, and all this 66 stuff is going to go away.''
Couples and Price took advantage while they could, getting around with a different style of game that gave them a one-stroke lead over PGA champion Rich Beem.
In his first start since winning the Houston Open to end a five-year drought, Couples played bogey-free at Quail Hollow and holed two long birdie putts to be in the lead for the fourth straight round on tour.
''I'm riding this wave and playing well,'' he said.
Price is on a high of his own. Two days ago, he was introduced as the latest member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and he cautioned tour officials not to etch in stone his 18 victories on the PGA Tour. He might have at least another one left in him.
Price birdied four of his last seven holes, saving par with an 8-foot putt on No. 9.
It was a prime example why he's not bothered by a course that measures 7,396 yards. Price had 201 yards left to the green, but was able to hit a low iron that ran up and just over the putting surface.
''It's a straightforward, honest golf course,'' Price said.
''There is no goofiness to it. I don't mind playing a par-4 that's 490 yards long if you allow me to run the ball up to the green. You get what you play here. I think that's what we all look for on a great course.''
Mike Weir, in his first tournament since winning The Masters, holed an 8-iron from 161 yards in the rough at No. 11 for eagle and wound up at 72.
Like most players, anything around par was satisfactory. The only disappointment for the Canadian was his introduction on the first tee. Just like the course, it was straightforward -- no mention of anything he has won lately, like a green jacket.
''I was waiting for that ringing in my ear ... Masters champion,'' Weir said with a smile. ''Maybe I'll get that down the road.''
The most peculiar part of the first round was that the best scoring came in the afternoon, when Quail Hollow began to dry out. Stephen Ames had the best score among early starters, a 3-under 69.
''I played well and shot 2 under,'' Howell said. ''If you shoot 2 under at New Orleans, you're thinking about jumping off a building.''
Toms, who hasn't won since 2001, found Quail Hollow as advertised -- tough, fair and waiting for a call from the USGA.
''It's a U.S. Open-style golf course, except I think there are a few more birdie opportunities,'' he said. ''Just a great test of golf. Come Sunday afternoon, you're going to have to play some really good golf to be able to win. And I like that.''
It's the first PGA Tour event in Charlotte since the Kemper Open left for Maryland in 1979, and the gallery soaked in every minute of it.
Tiger Woods isn't around, but that didn't seem to matter by the end of the day. The great play came from Price, and Couples supplied the charisma.
Tugging at his visor, blasting away at his drives and strolling down the fairways, Couples overcame some errant shots early in his round by attacking the par-5s. He reached the fringe on the 591-yard 10th with a 3-wood from 280 yards, and gave himself another eagle try on the uphill, 566-yard 15th with another 3-wood.
Only 41 players managed to break par, and just 10 players were in the 60s. And that was on a relatively soft course.
''I imagine if we don't get any rain by Saturday afternoon and Sunday, this golf course is going to be playing very difficult,'' Price said. ''It's going to be a wonderful test.''
Bobby Mitchell started out as the 61st alternate and, because dozens of players didn't show up, was next in line when the final threesome teed off. Mitchell turned 60 in February and was on the list as a past champion -- the 1971 Cleveland Classic and the 1972 Tournament of Champions. Being an alternate allowed him access to the practice range. One marshal didn't know who he was and asked him to leave. Why did he want to play? ''I just wanted to play in one of these to see what I can do,'' Mitchell said. ... Jay Haas had a 1-over 73, but was still three shots better than Bill, his 20-year-old son. The Wake Forest junior was 1 under after six holes, but then played his next four holes 5 over. ... Jeff Sluman withdrew because his father found a kidney donor and was undergoing surgery in Florida.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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