The most anticipated athletic event of the year happened April 8 and it wasn't the Seattle Mariners playing in Oakland and losing their third in a row.
Few might've expected, given the opening of the Masters golf tournament, that the first name being mentioned would've been Fred Couples instead of Tiger Woods. But Couples, the 50-year-old phenom, is in the tourney lead after the first round and hence belongs in the news lead as well.
"I've been putting ridiculously well," the Seattle native said with a shake of the head a few minutes after finishing six under par a stroke ahead of a chorus of contenders.
Despite spotty weather, the field scored well for a first day of what many regard as the major among the quartet of pro-golf majors.
"If I play well I should shoot in the 60s," Couples said, and he certainly did both.
Couples' putting? Pretty darned ridiculous, all right, as much so as the tabloid-style atmosphere coming into a day attended by eminent curiosity, morbid and otherwise. The key question had less to do with how Woods would play golf as how fans would react to him.
It seemed odd, then, given the lack of civility in modern public life, that fans were from the start forgiving and supportive of Woods, whose off-the-course behavior has been about as far off course as it could get. Woods seemed to be buoyed, perhaps even surprised by the fan's backing, helped as he was by his own impressive round: 68 after sitting out competitive golf for five-plus months.
For the first time at Augusta National, he had a pair of eagles during the same round. He also boasted his initial first-round Masters score in the 60s, an odd stat given that he's won there three times.
But the fan favorite clearly was Couples, who has parlayed confidence from three-straight senior-tournament wins into such a steady level of golf excellence that few would be surprised to see him win his second green jacket, the vestment that goes to the Masters champ. He'd be the oldest by four years to accomplish the feat.
Then again, Tom Watson, shot five under in the opening round. Not only is he 10 years Freddy's senior but he also is the only player to have beaten Couples in a Champions Tour event this season.