Jay Haas putts on the 14th green during the first round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship golf tournament in San Francisco, Thursday. (AP-Yonhap News)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) ― U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples seems amused by all the controversy surrounding Tiger Woods’ position on the American team.
Some might say he relishes it.
Couples shot a 3-under 68 in rainy, wet conditions Thursday for a share of the lead with assistant captain Jay Haas after the first round of the Champions Tour’s season-ending Charles Schwab Championship.
Not surprisingly, the first question Couples faced after his round was about Woods.
“In my mind some of it’s very serious and some of it is comical because it just keeps going,” said Couples, who guaranteed Woods a spot weeks before his captain’s picks were due.
“We have 11 other guys on the team. But it seems like it’s all about Tiger. I’ve picked him and we’ll wait until we get to Australia and we’ll see how he plays.”
Coming off a seven-stroke victory three weeks ago in San Antonio, Couples had six birdies and three bogeys at TPC Harding Park, the site of the United States’ 2009 Presidents Cup victory in his first year as captain.
He overcame a rough back nine, getting a birdie on the par-4 18th to grab a share of the lead.
“I always say he’s a golfing genius,” said Haas, who had four birdies and a bogey. “He’s kind of just got it. When he’s healthy, he has a great work ethic.”
Couples, who in July traveled to Germany for a treatment on his back that is not allowed in the U.S., looked much more relaxed on the golf course in the final event on the 50-and-under tour.
He got off to a quick start with birdies on five of the first nine holes and held a two-stroke lead midway through the back nine before running into trouble in the wet, windy conditions.
Couples, a two-time winner on tour this season, had bogeyed Nos. 13 and 14― both par 4s―then added another bogey on the par-3 17th to fall a stroke behind Haas. Couples recovered on the 18th with a 10-foot birdie putt to regain a share of the lead.
“I didn’t dominate the golf course but I drove it well and I made some of the holes seem easier,” Couples said. “Today was not really that bad. It was more of a nuisance.”
Haas, whose only victory this season came at the 3M Championship in Minnesota in late July, had a more consistent round. His only stumble came on the par-3 11th when flew the green with his tee shot.
Haas made up for it with birdies on 16 and 17 to take a brief one-stroke lead.
“It was a difficult day out there,” Haas said. “The rain is not as bad as the rain and the wind. It was a two- or three-club turnaround wind basically on most holes.”
David Frost and Michael Allen were a stroke back and Charles Schwab Cup points leader Tom Lehman matched Kenny Perry and Rod Spittle at 70.
Periodic heavy rain combined with sporadic sweeping wind kept the scores high. Only seven of the 30 players broke par on the picturesque course.
Lehman, attempting to become the first to win player of the year honors on the PGA, Nationwide and Champion tours, repeatedly struggled with his approach shots and had only two birdies.
Mark Calcavecchia, second in points behind Lehman, had an even rougher afternoon. He had five birdies but two double bogeys, one at the par-3 third, en route to a 71.