DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - Tiger Woods had plenty of fun playing with good friend Fred Couples in Thursday’s opening round of the Memorial Tournament, but was frustrated after failing to capitalizes on good ball-striking in tough conditions.
While PGA Tour veteran Couples surprised himself with his own good play on lightning-fast greens that became increasingly bumpy for the late starters, Woods had to settle for a one-under-par 71 after mixing five birdies with four bogeys.
“It was probably the highest score I could have shot today,” five-times Memorial champion Woods told reporters after launching his title defense with a total of 30 putts on a hot, muggy and breezy afternoon at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
“Didn’t capitalize on a few opportunities I had. Short irons, I didn’t hit them close enough. All in all it was a pretty high score.
“But I played a lot better than my score indicates. Hopefully tomorrow I can clean up, make a few more putts and get a roll.”
Woods, who has clinched four victories in just seven starts on the 2013 PGA Tour, is considered one of the best putters of all time but he struggled on greens he described as “a little crusty and a little bumpy”.
He added: “I just didn’t make anything today. I thought I hit good putts. I misread a couple pretty badly.
“Chipping is tough around here. You’ve got to leave it in the correct spots. I left all my chip shots on the correct spots where I had uphill putts coming for the next one.
“And unfortunately I didn’t bury those,” added Woods, who was six shots behind leader Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.
Asked what he thought of the five-birdie 70 carded by the 53-year-old Couples, who will captain the U.S. Presidents Cup team against the Internationals in October at Muirfield Village, Woods smiled: “Yeah, kicked my ass.”
Overall, though, Woods thoroughly enjoyed being grouped with former Masters champion Couples and fellow American Keegan Bradley, who also opened with a 71.
“We had a good time,” said Woods, a 14-times major winner. “We had our spells when we were having a lot of fun and had spells when it got a little quiet out there.
“I made a few mistakes, so did Keegs. It had its moments.”
Couples, champion here in 1998, was delighted with his round after playing no competitive golf for a month since he tied for fourth in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf in Savannah, Georgia on the over-50s Champions Tour.
“I was not expecting 70,” the laid-back Couples beamed. “I’m not going to lie to anyone. But I’m thrilled. I’ve not been playing any golf. I skipped last week.
“To be honest, I sent him (Woods) a text and said, ‘Do you really want me in this group? I’ve played no golf.’ You’re nervous playing with him.
“But I was more nervous, because I’ve not played since Savannah with Jay Haas and I didn’t play well there, so to go through all that ... but I did beat him (Woods),” he added with a laugh.
Couples, who has played just four times on the Champions Tour and twice on the PGA Tour this season, outlined the strategy he usually adopts when paired with Woods in competition.
“My goal when I play with him always is to try to hit it solid and stay out of his way,” he said.
“And today was a good one. I’ve putted extremely well and I look forward to playing tomorrow.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury