Friday, June 4, 2004

Couples: Course could get tough

Less rain means quicker greens

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DUBLIN, Ohio - Fred Couples, a gallery favorite, said he might be hard-pressed to shave many more strokes off the 69 he shot Thursday.

He said that if it doesn't rain anymore, the greens will "firm up and get extremely quick."

"The ball was stopping on the green (Thursday), but it may not stop (this) afternoon," Couples said. "You may see this course play awfully tough the next three days."

"OPEN"-ING DAY: Two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen already is sounding the bells that he likely will be a factor for a third major coming up soon at Shinnecock Hills in Southhampton, N.Y.

He shot a three-under par 69 Thursday and is one stroke off the lead. The other three 69s were by Couples, Paul Azinger, Stephen Ames, Zach Johnson (who was playing with Jack Nicklaus, who shot 74), Todd Hamilton, John Rollins and Arron Oberholser.

"This course challenges you to use course management," Janzen said. "You just have to hit the ball to the proper spot off the tee. You can't just wail back and hit it as far as you can and whack it out of the rough. That was Jack's strong point his whole career. ... so I'm sure that had an influence on how the golf course is set up."

Frank Lickliter, a Franklin native, shot a one-under 71 Thursday, three off the lead. He said this is the "hardest" he's ever seen Muirfield play, because of the speed of the greens. Soft conditions and occasionally muddy golf balls didn't help. Many players said it was an issue Thursday, but most - including Lickliter - said the decision to play the ball "down" was proper.

"I had a drive down the middle on 15 with 220 (yards) to the pin, little edge slope, wind's out of the right, I'm just loving a 5-wood, standing there, cut 5-wood up against the wind that's just gonna come down and not go anywhere, and I hit this ball that was going at the pin and then it turned left about 60 yards out," Lickliter said. "I knew there was mud on it, which is another reason I hit a cut shot, but there was nothing else I could do about it."

Northern Kentucky native Steve Flesch shot even-par 72.

ICE MAN CURTIS: Columbus native Ben Curtis, 27, who won the British Open last year, said he is excited to be playing this tournament and to have shot a 69, one off the lead Thursday. He began attending the Memorial when he was seven.

"To come down here every year and to be able to watch some of these guys, watch Payne (Stewart) and Freddie (Couples) and all these guys, now I'm playing with them - it's always a dream to play in events that you. ... grew up watching," Curtis said.

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