Fred Couples, Jeff Sluman tied at Fallen Oak

Fred Couples, Jeff Sluman tied at Fallen Oak

SAUCIER, Miss. (AP) – Jeff Sluman watched Fred Couples make six birdies in a row in the morning.

He did his best imitation in the afternoon.

Sluman birdied five of the final seven holes for an 8-under 64 in the second round Saturday to climb into a tie for the lead with Couples in the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic.

“It was a difficult day, but I just hit the ball very well,'' Sluman said. “I was never in any major trouble and I hit a lot of greens.''

Most of the players had to finish their first rounds early Saturday morning before the second round began. Sluman was paired with Couples during the early morning golf as Couples ripped off six straight birdies to end his first round and finish with a course-record 63.

“You see a guy make six birdies in a row, what it says to you is if you hit quality shot like that, maybe it will happen to you,'' Sluman said.

Then he grinned.

“I certainly didn't think it was actually going to happen,'' he added.

Sluman didn't quite match Couples' amazing finish, but he came close. Now the two will duel in the final round Sunday.

Couples wasn't quite as sharp in the second round, but 70 in the second round kept him in a good position for his first Champions Tour title this year and the seventh of his career.

Couples is coming off an eighth-place tie Sunday in Newport Beach. He's scheduled to play the PGA Tour's Houston Open and the Masters the next two weeks.

“I played very scrappy this afternoon,'' Couples said. “To get under par was a good score. It would have been nice to shoot 5-under or something, but that wasn't going to happen. I felt very mediocre.''

Maybe the most intriguing story was the 7-under 65 shot by Jim Thorpe, the 63-year-old who is playing his best golf since serving a year in prison on tax evasion charges. He was released in April of last year and is now just two shots behind the leaders.

Couples was 3 under through 12 holes on Friday before the round was suspended because of darkness. He birdied his final six holes early Saturday morning for a one-stroke lead.

Couples' run of birdies was even more remarkable considering the 52-year-old had never even seen Fallen Oak before the first round. He had planned to play in Thursday's pro-am, but the event was canceled after the course was soaked by several inches of rain. There was so much water, he couldn't even practice.

“That was totally unexpected,'' Couples said. “Everything went great.''

Couples had 10 birdies and one bogey in his first round.

Course conditions were nearly perfect for low scores in the morning after soaking rains at Fallen Oak earlier in the week pushed the opening round tee times back more than four hours.

The second round proved more of a challenge for just about everyone. The drier course proved less forgiving and occasional wind gusts of up to 15 mph made shots less predictable.

But Sluman maneuvered through the course without many problems. He also got a few big breaks – such as a 50-foot putt that dropped for birdie on No. 8.

“Those are the things that sometimes break a round like this,'' Sluman said.

Sluman is in the final group at Fallen Oak for the second straight year. The 54-year-old tied for second last year behind Tom Lehman.

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