Golf: Couples swoops on eagle finish

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The Independent Online
Fred Couples and his playing partner, Sandy Lyle, enjoyed markedly different fortunes in the opening round of the inaugural Honda Open in Hamburg yesterday. Couples, the Masters champion, finished with an eagle on the final hole for a 69, one off the pace, while Lyle finished in frustration with a 78.

Couples, who chose to compete here rather than at the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, holed a bunker shot for an eagle three on the ninth hole to complete an inward 32 and a solid first round of 69. That leaves the American sharing second place, one stroke behind joint leaders Russell Claydon, of England, and American Bill Malley.

Lyle's opening 78 meant that only six other golfers were behind him in the 120-strong field. He stormed off the course, describing his round as 'disastrous', while Couples, 33, talked about his desire for a first European victory.

'I'm here with the idea that I can win. I want it badly,' he said. 'I know that I can't expect just to show up and win, but if it doesn't happen this year, then I'll be back to try again. I haven't been putting so good, but my score is not at all bad on this course. I shot exactly the same in the pro-am, 32 on the front and 37 on the back.'

Couples and Lyle started their rounds at the 10th and the Scot turned in 36, one stroke ahead of his American Ryder Cup rival. But while Couples picked up two birdies and that spectacular eagle at the 495-yard ninth, Lyle stumbled home in 42.

The former Open champion ran up sixes at the first, where his approach struck a tree and landed in a ditch, the third, when he three- putted, and the fourth, after splashing down in the water hazard.

Couples finished level with Australian Peter Fowler and Bernhard Langer, who birdied two of the last three holes for a steady 69. However, no one could topple Claydon and Malley, who posted their four-under-par 68s before lunchtime.

Claydon, from Cambridge, had six birdies and two bogeys. 'My early start must have helped. I was up at 5.30 and made all these birdies before I woke up,' he said.

HONDA OPEN (Hamburg) Leading first-round scores (GB and Irl unless stated): 68 R Claydon, B Malley (US). 69 B Langer (Ger), P Fowler (Aus), F Couples (US). 70 T Levet (Fr), J Robinson, M Roe, P Mitchell, Y Kuramoto (Japan), P Curry, G J Brand. 71 R Hartmann (US), M Poxon, M Hallberg (Swe), J Rystrom (Swe), J Parnevik (Swe), E Els (SA), A Binaghi (It), J Quiros (Sp), G Ralph, D Clarke, D Cooper, S Torrance, R Gonzalez (Arg), L Tinkler (Aus). 72 J Heggarty, R Chapman, G Brand Jnr, P Smith, H P Thuel (Ger), W Westner (SA), P Way, G Evans, T Charnley, D Mijovic (Can), C Mason, D J Russell, I Palmer (SA), R Boxall, M McNulty (Zim), E O'Connell. 73 J McHenry, J Metcalfe, S McAllister, M Allen (US), T Giedeon (Ger), C Platts, M Pinero (Sp), P Broadhurst, H Baiocchi (SA), J Davila (Sp), D R Jones, M Miller, J Bland (SA), A Murray, S Field, E Darcy, A Cejka (Ger), R Drummond, P Lonard (Aus). Selected: 75 M James, P Stewart (US). 78 S Lyle.