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Fred Couples
Fred Couples was spectacular from the start of his second round, racking up five birdies on his front nine alone. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

Big drives, stellar putting put Couples on top

Fred Couples took advantage of his prodigious tee shots and some timely putting Friday to fire a 4-under 68 and grab a one-shot lead heading into the weekend. Tom Kite is alone in second, with Tom Lehman another shot off the pace in third place.

By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer

PARKER, Colo. -- The leaderboard after 36 holes at Colorado Golf Club and the 71st Senior PGA Championship reads like a who’s-who of major champions. The names Couples, Kite, Langer, Lehman and Price are all sprinkled among the top 10.

Fred Couples, however, is all alone at the top. The Champions Tour rookie, who has already racked up a remarkable three wins in just six starts, carded a 4-under 68 in the second round on Friday, despite a bogey on the last hole due to a wayward tee shot that resulted in a penalty stroke for an unplayable lie. That, along with his 3-under 69 in the opening round, has Couples at 7-under 137 for the tournament, one shot clear of Tom Kite and two ahead of Tom Lehman.

“I'm happy to be in first place,” Couples said. “I played great today.  I had a lot of birdies and a couple bogeys, three bogeys in there.  But putted very well… I'm 7 under, one ahead of Tom, and maybe, I don't know what third place is, 5 under?  So I'm not really worried about a lead, I'm just wanting to go out tomorrow and keep playing well and see what happens and then worry about a lead on Sunday on the back nine. If I have one.”

Taiwan’s Chien Soon Lu and Jay Don Blake are tied for fourth at 4 under, while Nick Price, Robin Freeman and Bernhard Langer make up a threesome tied for sixth place at 3 under. Langer stumbled on the way in, finishing his last two holes double bogey-bogey for a 3-over 75.

Couples was spectacular right from the start in the second round, racking up five birdies to go against just one bogey on the front side to make the turn in 4-under 32. He picked up a bogey on the 197-yard, par-3 11th hole after short-siding himself to the right of the green and failing to get up and down from some thick rough.

The 50-year-old bounced right back with birdies on Nos. 14 and 16. The 16th is a 550-yard par 5 and Couples gave himself a look at eagle from the front fringe. However, the break in the green was so severe that Couples had his back to the hole to play the putt. It missed well low, but he still managed to hole an 8-footer for the birdie.

“I hit a great putt to get it eight feet from the hole and to keep it on that top plateau,” Couples said. “It looked like a great shot there.  It wouldn't have mattered, I was trying to get it in the middle of the green, I was not trying to hit it to that little plateau.

“But that was a good two-putt -- especially since the hole before that I hit two great shots right over the top of the flag and a yard over the green and three-putted from a long way,” he added. “But to not birdie 16 would have been, I think, giving away shots, which you can't do.”

The 36-hole cut fell at 7-over 151 with 81 players advancing to the weekend, including eight of the 42 PGA Club Professionals who teed it up. James Blair III of Ogden, Utah, and Lindy Miller of Fort Worth, Texas, are carrying the torch for the club professionals, both tied for 22nd at 2 over.

Among the notables who won’t be around for weekend play are: 2007 champ Denis Watson (77-77—154); Joey Sindelar (76-77—153); Sandy Lyle (80-74—154); and Andy North (80-74—154).

Friday’s forecast called for high winds, but they never truly came to fruition until later in the day.

Kite, for one, said the course was left a little vulnerable without the winds since tees were moved up and the green speeds were kept on the slower side.

“We kept expecting it to pick up because the forecast all today was at noon it was going to start blowing and at 1 it was going to really start howling and at 3 o'clock it was going to be knocking your hat off,” said Kite after firing his second consecutive 3-under 69. “And right now it's about a 3-mph out there. Consequently it affects the way the golf course is set up when the weatherman misses it so badly.  They had the tees set up in a certain way anticipating certain conditions.  And then when the weatherman just blows it as badly as they have, I mean obviously the golf course is set up for the difficult conditions.”

Because of that, Kite expected to see lower scores in the afternoon. While Colorado Golf Club might not have had as much bite as it did Thursday, that sure didn’t show in the scores. Only 15 players cracked par Friday compared to 20 on Thursday.

Kite might not have felt the wind earlier in the day, but Couples was certainly feeling it when he got to the range just before his 2:15 p.m. tee time and throughout his round.

“As soon as I walked on the range, it started blowing,” Couples said. “Nothing like they were predicting, though.  I had thought they were talking about 30-mph winds, but it's been the same.  Yesterday it blew, all day, I think, today it was calmer in the morning or it seemed like it, I wasn't out here, but it blew pretty much from the first hole on. Up until the last hole, for two days I've driven the ball pretty well.  And that's been a key. 

“If I can drive it down these fairways and hit it solid and have less clubs into most of these greens, I'm going to be better off than most and I'm certainly going to be better off for myself,” he added. “But the wind was tough.  It's a very hard course, I've putted really well for two days to make a lot of birdies.  That's the reason I'm 7 under.”

In fact, Couples credits his lead to stellar putting. He needed 27 putts in the first round and just 26 in the second.

“I've putted very well this year,” Couples said. “I think it's confidence in being in the positions that you're in. And I'm in the same spot tomorrow, I could come out and not putt as well and I'll have to rely on hitting it much better to hang in there. But the times that I've won and played out here, I've putted really, really well.  I have no idea why. 

“The greens are, they were pretty fast at Naples; and Toshiba they were fairly quick and a little bumpy, because they're poa annua. These are great greens.  They're perfect.  The speed is lower, there's no doubt.  But I made a lot of 8- and 10-foot par putts and a lot of birdie putts.”

Defending champion Michael Allen shot an even-par 72 in the second round and at 1 under for the tournament, he’s just outside the top 10, six shots off the lead. Allen, however, was disappointed about missed birdie opportunities and a bogey on his final hole.

“I'm still defending champ for two more days, and hopefully for another year, but I'm going to have to play a lot better than I did today, get the ball in the hole and score a lot better than I have,” Allen said. “As I say, I'm in position, I'm playing well, so hopefully I can shoot a good score. That's what I haven't done yet. I played well, I just haven't shot a good score yet.”

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