San Francisco, CA – Two of the men who will lead the U.S. Presidents Cup team in two weeks were also leading the way Thursday after the first round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
U.S. captain Fred Couples birdied the 18th hole to match assistant captain Jay Haas at three-under 68 for a one-stroke lead at TPC Harding Park, which is where Couples captained the 2009 U.S. Presidents Cup team to victory.
Couples' other assistant captain, John Cook, is the two-time defending champion this week but struggled to a two-over 73 and is tied for 17th.
The other battle this week is for the season-long Charles Schwab Cup. Tom Lehman tops the list and is one of five players who can win the $1 million annuity.
Lehman shares fifth place with Rod Spittle and Kenny Perry at one-under 70.
Couples had a remarkable front nine and led by as many as three strokes. He opened with a birdie on the first, then converted back-to-back birdie chances at the fourth and fifth.
The 52-year-old Couples, who has won twice in nine starts on the Champions Tour this season, pushed his lead to two strokes with a birdie on the seventh.
Couples got up and down for birdie on the par-five ninth to go three clear of the field and had another birdie chance on the 10th, but missed.
Following two more pars, Couples tumbled down the leaderboard. After a bogey on the 13th, Couples found a bunker with his approach on the 14th for another bogey and was suddenly tied for the lead with Haas.
Couples dropped another stroke on the par-three 17th, again failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker. However, he atoned for that mistake with a seven-foot birdie putt at the last to gain a piece of the first-round lead.
"I hadn't hit many good shots, so I got it up on the right tier and made birdie, which was a nice finish," Couples said in a television interview about his last two shots on No. 18.
Haas, who claimed his 15th Champions Tour win at the 3M Championship, made back-to-back birdie efforts at four and five, then parred five in a row from the sixth. He stumbled to a bogey at the 11th before making four more pars.
The 2005 runner-up converted a birdie effort on the 16th to get back to minus- two and made it two in a row with a birdie at 17. Haas parred the last to get in first at 68.
"I've been playing pretty well since the end of the summer, but haven't really put any rounds together since then," Haas said in a TV interview. "I really played good today. I hit a lot of good shots. It was a tough day out there as scores are indicating."
NOTES: Couples and Haas will be paired together in the second round...There are just three former winners in the field this week -- Cook, three-time champ Tom Watson and Hale Irwin, who both struggled to 74 on Thursday.