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BOB HOPE CLASSIC : Couples Surprises Himself With a 65 for Lead

Times Staff Writer

On a windy Wednesday in the desert, it wasn’t surprising that the leaders in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic played at Indian Wells and Bermuda Dunes.

In degree of difficulty, those courses aren’t regarded as demanding in comparison to Eldorado or Palmer PGA West.

Fifteen of the best 16 rounds on the opening day of the 90-hole tournament were shot at either Indian Wells or Bermuda Dunes, and Fred Couples, playing at Indian Wells, took the lead all alone by shooting a 7-under-par 65.

Jim Gallagher, also playing at Indian Wells, shot a 66. He has been on the PGA Tour since 1984, but he lost his card in 1987 and played last year through sponsor exemptions and Open qualifying.

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Brad Bryant and Peter Jacobsen each shot a 67, also at Indian Wells.

Twelve players were grouped at 68, including Lanny Wadkins and Tom Kite.

“I didn’t expect to be 7 under,” Couples said. “I didn’t have much of an off-season and mentally I couldn’t get myself to practice. I just wanted to sit around and relax. This round is really surprising.”

Couples, who lives at the Palm Beach Polo Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., is nicknamed Boom Boom because of his length off the tee. He said he hit the ball well, but not always close to the hole, adding that he made a lot of putts.

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Starting on the 10th hole, Couples got an immediate lift when he sank a 20-foot putt for a birdie. He then birdied 3 more holes with only 1 bogey in his opening 9 holes. After shooting a 33, he had 5 birdies on his final 9 holes with only 1 bogey for a 32.

Couples birdied all of the par-3 holes and commented, “That’s unusual for me.” He also reached 2 par-5 holes in 2 shots, confirming his power.

Asked if he enjoyed playing with the celebrities, Couples said, “I throughly enjoyed myself and I think that the amateurs who played with me enjoyed the round.”

His 65, of course, would make any round enjoyable.

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Couples wasn’t sure he was ready to play so superbly after playing a couple of practice rounds with Jay Haas.

“I said to myself, ‘I can’t compete with this guy,’ ” Couples said.

Haas, the defending Hope champion, finished in a tie for second last week in the MONY Tournament of Champions at La Costa. Wednesday, however, he could shoot only 74 at Indian Wells.

Steve Jones, who won at La Costa by 3 strokes over Haas and David Frost, had to brave the stiff winds at Palmer PGA West and shot a 4-over-par 76.

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Arnold Palmer, competing in his 30th Hope tournament, had a 73 at Indian Wells. All things considered, perhaps the best round of the day was Don Reese’s 68 at Palmer PGA West. Since the pros play all 4 courses the first 4 days and wind up Sunday at Bermuda Dunes without their amateur partners, an early lead, such as Couple’s, isn’t all that meaningful. He plays Eldorado today.

Couples finished 27th on the money list last year, earning $489,822. He didn’t win a tournament in 1988, but he made the cut 26 out of 28 times. He said he is using some new irons, but has retained his driver, 3-wood, sand wedge and putter. His putter was his best friend Wednesday.

Other pros who had notable opening rounds were Fuzzy Zoeller, Hal Sutton, Jeff Sluman, Paul Azinger and Keith Fergus, each with 69. As expected, their rounds were shot at either Indian Wells, or Bermuda Dunes.

David Ogrin, who played at Bermuda Dunes Wednesday, said he got a break. He shot a 68.

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“The reason I think it’s a good break to play here, as opposed to Arnold Palmer or Indian Wells, or Eldorado, is because Bermuda Dunes is a traditional golf course, not funny humps, and real hilly greens,” he said. “And the condominiums and houses aren’t so confining.

“So perchance you can get away with a little bit of a wind blown shot at Bermuda Dunes. But the conditions still aren’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.

“I want to go on record to say Arnold has done a tremendous job with the course. I just think playing those mountain holes in these swirling winds just has to be a nightmare. I hope by Saturday, conditions get back to normal.”

Ogrin has a good reason to want the winds to subside. He’ll be playing the Palmer course on that day.

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