Golf: Couples in charge of American defence: Holders have the edge in World Cup as British teams are forced to work hard to stay in contention

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The Independent Online
IN ADDITION to possessing one of golf's greatest supplies of natural- born talent, Fred Couples is also one of those individuals who seems to get most of the lucky breaks that the game can occasionally bestow, so it was actually surprising that until yesterday Couples had never landed an albatross.

Couples' two-iron second shot on the par-five ninth hole rolled some 30 feet on the green and straight into the cup; Davis Love made a birdie on the same hole, giving the United States team a net gain of four strokes on that single hole, and vaulting them into the lead in the first round of the World Cup here. A final birdie by Couples on the 18th gave the Americans, who are the defending champions this week at Lake Nona, a three-stroke lead over South Africa and France. Couples' score of 66 also gave him a share of the lead in the individual competition with France's Jean Van de Velde.

Nick Price and Mark McNulty put Zimbabwe in fourth place at three under par, with Wales and Australia tied for fifth at two under. Mark Mouland led the Welsh team, shooting a 68, while Ian Woosnam had an uncharacteristic World Cup round of 74; Woosnam has finished no worse than fourth individually in his last seven World Cup appearances.

Scotland finished at one under par 143, in a tie for seventh with Germany and Ireland, as Sam Torrance's fine round of 68, which included a double bogey, was dragged down by Colin Montgomerie's mediocre 75. The two Scots lost four shots in four bunkers yesterday, with the soft and plentiful sand in the Lake Nona traps inevitably plugging any shot that landed inside; on the third hole Montgomerie's ball was buried so deeply that just the very top of it was visible.

'The bunkers stuffed us up today,' Torrance said. 'We nearly lost a ball in one of them, and were deeply plugged in three others.' Montgomerie, who bogeyed four of his last five holes, blamed a reaction from his win at the Volvo Masters last week for his poor play in the opening round yesterday. 'I'm tired, very mentally tired. But I knew it would be difficult for me this week, so actually 75 is not such a bad score. Never mind, I'll get back into it.'

England came in at one over par 145, with Mark James posting a 76, while David Gilford shot a 69. England's trouble started right at the first hole when James sent his tee shot into an unplayable lie in the woods, and he played the first nine holes in 40.

WORLD CUP OF GOLF (Orlando) Leading first- round scores: 137 United States (F Couples 66, D Love 71). 140 France (J Van de Velde 66, M Farry 74); South Africa (E Els 69, R Goosen 71). 141 Zimbabwe (N Price 70, M McNulty 71). 142 Wales (M Mouland 68, I Woosnam 74); Australia (R Davis 70, R Allenby 72). 143 Scotland (S Torrance 68, C Montgomerie 75); Ireland (R Rafferty 71, P McGinley 72); Germany (B Langer 69, S Struver 74). 144 Argentina (E Romero 71, L Carbonetti 73); Japan (H Shigenobu 70, K Tomori 74). 145 England (D Gilford 69, M James 76); Spain (M Jimenez 72, J Rivero 73); Italy (C Rocca 71, S Grappasonni 74).

Severiano Ballesteros yesterday urged Ryder Cup organisers to host the 1997 event, due to be held in his native Spain, at Novo Sancti Petri, near Cadiz - a course he has designed. 'It is the best place to make sure we have success,' he said.