If there's one thing that makes the Champions Tour stand out from the PGA, it's the seemingly increasing number of potential injuries that can sideswipe the players from tee to green. The physical margin for error is thinner, too - if you have a bad night sleeping as Tom Watson did, it can be difficult to recover. Watson was money early on, bombing the ball into the fairways of Sahalee Country Club and making some really pretty approach shots. But as the morning progressed, Watson began to fade. He shot a two-under 33 through his front nine, got down to three under and a tie for the early lead with Loren Roberts after 12 holes, and then fell apart. On his last six holes, he put up three bogeys and gave up his advantage, finishing his first round at par. Par is never bad at a tough course like Sahalee, but Watson expected more.
"The morning started off good, but I wore out, the time change [coming over from the British Senior Open] got me and I'm half asleep," he said. "The body's hurting, I'm worn out, and I can't make any putts. The front nine was great, but the back nine I hit some iron shots I shouldn't have hit, and I didn't make any putts."
Watson acknowledged the huge crowds that came out to see hometown boy Fred Couples, but didn't believe that being in Couples' group was a distraction for him. There were big crowds pulling for Freddy and that's to be expected. Freddy made a good comeback today -- he didn't play very well at all on the front nine. We should have switched nines."
Without question. While Watson began the day on fire, Couples started out paying more attention to his long-troublesome back, stretching every possible way and trying to get warmed up in Seattle's cloudy, cold weather. He started off as Watson's mirror image, struggling through a 36 on the front nine before recovering and getting back to an even finish - matching Watson's 70 for the day.
"You watched it, would you have thought Tom and I would have shot the same score?", the animated Couples said after his round. "Wow! He was awesome. And he didn't get many breaks and I was very mediocre and made a couple of great up and downs, just like the last hole out of the sand. But, you know, it was fun to play, it was challenging. I think the score I shot is phenomenal, I would have taken 70 before the round started, but the way Tom played, that was really fun to watch, he never missed a shot. Maybe hit one drive in the bunker and made bogey but it was pretty much watching him.
"I was very, very mediocre. I don't know what else to tell you."
What he could talk about was the three straight birdies he made on the back nine, taking command of his 13th, 14th, and 15th holes (the fourth, fifth, and sixth of the course - their group started on the back nine). "Three good holes," he said. "[On] 4, I hit a very good wedge in there, made a 3-footer for birdie. And the next hole, the Par 3, I hit a bomb. And the next hole I hit a 3 or 5 iron to 10 or 12 feet [from the hole] and made that. What else can I tell these people that weren't out there?"
Having all eyes on him, and so much family around this week, didn't affect his play. Was he thinking about th importance of the moment as he walked the course? "No, I was thinking if I make a couple more bogeys, I'm going to shoot 75! There were some holes out there, [where] I was thinking that 75 that wouldn't be that bad That's what I was thinking.
"There are a lot of people out there, my brother, nieces, and nephews, I see them, but I can't say much to them, because everybody and their brother is going to want to come over and say hi. So that was never a problem, it's just it's a hard course, you know, when you go out there you've got to drive it really well."
But Couples also warned anyone who's counting Watson out after that late fade to be very careful. "I'm going to say it, Tom -- that was how to play a U.S. Senior Open course. He was unlucky finishing up, I think he had a putt on 7 to go 3 under, and he missed it from 4 or 5 feet, and he bogeyed 8 and 9 by not doing anything poorly. The shot he hit on 9 was going to be one of the best shots of the day but it just didn't stop, it trickled up.
"As for me, nothing I can tell you. I've got to play better tomorrow, because if I hit it like this tomorrow there is no way I can shoot 70."
After getting 70s the hard way, and playing both ends against the middle in doing so, both Couples and Watson would like nothing more than a second day in which things work from start to finish. They'll play together again tomorrow, and maybe they'll be able to avoid good play on only an alternating basis.