THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Fred Couples shot a 4-under 68 in his first competitive round in eight months, while Bernhard Langer withdrew without hitting a shot Friday in the PowerShares QQQ Championship.
Returning from a chronic back injury, the 57-year-old Couples had three straight birdies on the back nine at rain-softened Sherwood in the PGA Tour Champions’ playoff opener. He was tied for eighth, three strokes behind leader Colin Montgomerie.
“Honestly, I could have shot 80 and been OK with it because my goals were just to be able to swing and play,” Couples said. “Today was just a very nice day. Just to get out of the house and walk around and see if I’ve made any progress in the last seven months.”
Langer re-aggravated a left knee injury at home in Florida doing routine spinning, had an MRI on Monday and wasn’t able to play a practice round. “I can’t transfer my weight,” Langer said Thursday. “I can’t put any pressure on my left knee.”
Montgomerie shot a 65, closing with a birdie after nearly holing his approach on the par-4 18th. The Scot birdied the first three holes, and had four more on the back nine. He won in Canada this season for his fourth tour title and is fourth in the Charles Schwab Cup standings.
“Even Ben Hogan allowed himself two mistakes a round of golf, so no bogeys around here is good, very good and that was key today,” Montgomerie said. “Hit the fairways, hit the greens. Fairways and greens, that’s what this course is all about.”
Fred Funk was two strokes back at 67 along with Scott McCarron, Jim Carter, Joey Sindelar, Jerry Smith and Brandt Jobe.
Couples played the rainy front nine in 1 under with a birdie on the par-5 fifth. He birdied the par-4 10th, dropped a stroke on the par-5 11th, then birdied the par-3 12th, par-5 13th and par-4 14th.
“Playing in that rain early, it just kind of made the course maybe, I hate to say, easier,” Couples said. “But it was really hard, the greens were rock hard and that little rain I think helped us. There were a lot of good scores in the morning.”
In 1999 at Sherwood, Couples teamed with David Duval to win the final Shark Shootout at the course. Couples also won with Raymond Floyd in 1990 and Brad Faxon in 1994.
“I’ve played a hundred rounds here probably and I don’t know how many guys can say that, or if they need to even worry about it,” Couples said. “But all the little nooks and crannies and that’s what I did today. I didn’t really hit many bad shots.”
Langer leads the tour with four victories and has wrapped up the season money title with $2,697,459. The 59-year-old German star tops the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs standings, and has a big enough advantage over second-place Miguel Angel Jimenez that he will keep the No. 1 spot without playing this week.
The top 72 players on the money list earned spots at Sherwood. The playoff field will be cut to 54 for the Dominion Charity Classic next week in Richmond, Virginia, and to 36 for the Charles Schwab Cup Championship the follow week in Scottsdale, Arizona. Each dollar earned in the first two events is worth two points and will be added to the regular-season total. At the Charles Schwab Championship, points will be reset so that the top five only have to win to capture the Charles Schwab Cup.
Jimenez shot a 71.
John Daly also had a 71, making bogeys on two of the last three holes. He qualified 70th and has five top-25 finishes in 14 starts since turning 50.
“I really kind of lost it there,” Daly said. “You can’t bogey the last two out of three any day out here. I think 7 will be leading, so I’m pretty much out of it really. I would have to shoot really, really low on the weekend to even have a chance.”