SNOQUALMIE — For defending champion Mark Calcavecchia, it was another day of golf magic in the Pacific Northwest.
For Fred Couples, it was a day of utter misery.
Calcavecchia, who won last year’s Boeing Classic in a playoff after a final-round 7-under-par 65, fired another 65 on Friday to nab the tournament’s first-round lead at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. Calcavecchia has a three-stroke lead over five players heading into today’s second of three rounds.
The players chasing Calcavecchia will not include Couples. The Seattle native and crowd favorite suffered a back injury on his opening tee shot and was in so much pain that he was unable to bend down and retrieve his ball from the fairway. Forced to withdraw, he left the course in a golf cart.
“It’s a tough break for the tourney, losing (Couples),” Calcavecchia said. “He’s our star. Everybody loves Fred, especially here in Seattle. So it’s a tough break for the tournament and I was sorry to see it. You never like to see somebody (withdraw) like that.”
Couples has chronic back problems “and that’s unfortunate for him,” said good friend John Cook, who was in a first-round threesome with Couples and Mark O’Meara. “I know he’s big around here and we would’ve loved to have finished the day with him. When Fred plays in our events, it adds something to our field.”
Couples’ injury was the only blemish to an otherwise perfect day for golf. Under a beautiful blue sky, and with the scenic Cascade Mountain foothills in the distance, 36 players in the 81-man field (80 after Couples dropped out) had under-par rounds, which doubled the first-round total from a year ago.
No one, though, could keep pace with Calcavecchia, who tamed the 7,183-yard layout with a round of seven birdies and an eagle to go with two bogeys. He surged into the lead midway through the day and never lost his lead, even after a disappointing round-closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.
“Making a 6 on an easy par-5 is kind of nauseating,” grumbled Calcavecchia. “It kind of wrecked an otherwise great day. It’s still a great score, but you hate doing that.”
Later, though, he would admit, “I played great. I hit a lot of great shots.”
This is the 52-year-old Calcavecchia’s third year in the tournament. He tied for 15th in 2010, but came back last year with rounds of 70, 67 and 65 to finish at 14-under 202, and then beat Russ Cochran in a playoff.
“I feel like I know I can shoot good scores on this course now,” said Calcavecchia, a 13-time winner on the PGA Tour and the 1989 British Open champion. “But it’s a tricky course. It’s not that easy to shoot a low score on it, so having back-to-back 65s is a good confidence builder.”
His eagle came on the par-5, 529-yard No. 8 hole, where he hit a long drive down the middle, landed a 4-iron on the green and rolled in a 20-foot putt.
“Eagles are great,” Calcavecchia said. “They definitely help.”
Tied for second heading into today’s round are Steve Pate, Jay Don Blake, Eduardo Romero, Kirk Triplett and Jeff Sluman, all with 4-under 68s.
Couples, meanwhile, spent the rest of Friday at a friend’s house in the Seattle area, seeking treatment for a back injury that is, by initial appearances, as bad as any in his long and often pain-filled career. The irony, according to Cook, is that Couples seemed in great shape and great spirits as he warmed up for Friday’s round.
“He was on the putting green joking around and everything looked good,” Cook said. “And on the first tee he bombed a drive right down the middle, but then he kind of took a while to pick up his tee and I thought, ‘Whoa, that doesn’t look good.’
“He was walking really slow down to his ball and then he couldn’t get the club out of his bag, so we knew that was it. And then he had (caddy Cayce Kerr) pick up his ball.”
Couples later told a Champions Tour representative that he “didn’t feel very good warming up. I hit the tee shot at No. 1 and then my lower back really locked up when I walked down the hill to my second shot. It was like a bomb went off in my lower back. … For this to happen to me in Seattle, this is a rough one.”
Two-time champion Tom Kite (2006, 2008) is in a six-way tie for seventh, still in contention after a first-round 3-under 69. But 2010 winner Bernhard Langer struggled with his putter and had a 1-over 73. … Mark McCullough opened with an 86 and never bothered to sign his scorecard, earning a disqualification. … Today’s first starting times are 10:30 a.m. … Friday’s first-round attendance was approximately 25,000. … Hale Irwin made his 1,054th combined start on the PGA and Champions tours, moving him past Arnold Palmer into fourth place all-time behind Miller Barber (1,293), Dave Eichelberger (1,250) and Charles Coody (1,070).