Golf : Couples starts a classic charge

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The Independent Online
Every time Fred Couples sees Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden it brings a smile to his face. The chairman of United Distillers has handed over some large cheques to the American, notably for winning the Johnnie Walker World Championship twice (at $550,000 a time), and today he could receive another pounds 116,660 for winning the same sponsor's Classic tournament for the second time.

Couples equalled the low round of the week with a 67 at Hope Island yesterday to leave himself four behind the Antipodean triplet of Anthony Painter, Peter Lonard and Michael Long. Nick Faldo was a shot further back, while Ernie Els led the famous trio just two behind the leaders.

The hot and breezy conditions made it a day for locals and the experience of the US Tour. Still, Els could not persuade a putt to drop in his 71. Faldo spent two hours on the putting green on Friday afternoon. "It's getting better," Faldo reported. "I holed one." The celebration was for the 20-footer that dropped at the fifth.

"I am not taking full advantage of the good shots I'm hitting," Faldo added. "But I am pleased with the swing. This weather can really screw you up." Yesterday afternoon's appointment was with some koalas. They are not as cuddly as they look, apparently. Neither is Couples as laid back. On Friday he took eight at the par-five ninth, and it was not until the 17th yesterday that he exorcised the memory.

The Boom Boom special left him with a wedge shot of 145 yards to the green. The hole measures 550 yards. You do the maths. "I don't know if it was 400 yards, but it went a long way," Couples said. The American was one of only five players to break 70, the others being Phillip Price 68, Bernhard Langer 69, Lonard's 69 and Painter who shot another 67.

Painter, who has a practice tee on his farm at Tamworth, New South Wales, and Lonard hoped to celebrate Australia Day in style. With the New Zealander Long they have been the most consistent players in Australia this season. "We wanted to show that the local tour guys could play as well," Painter said.

Lonard may be familiar from his two years in Europe in 1991-92. "The first year I was a bit of a yahoo, but I thought I could retain my card the second year but for being crook." It was a mosquito bite in this area that gave him the Ross River fever that did not clear his system for three years. Once bitten, twice shy? Not for an Aussie.