AUGUSTA - OK, let's get this out of the way: The leader after the first round of the Masters plays golf in tennis shoes. With no socks.
Fred Couples shot a Masters' career-best 6-under 66 on Thursday to take a one-shot lead over five players.
And he did it while taking a break from the over-50 Champions Tour.
Couples wears tennis shoes while golfing because it's easier on his bad back. He put on dress shoes for the Masters Champions dinner on Tuesday night, but "not for long."
Couples, who turned 50 in October, rides in carts during some senior events because "I was playing well, so I just kept riding."
The 1992 Masters champion had no problems walking the hills of Augusta National. In fact, he thrived in his 26th appearance. He led a contingent of four 50-plus players who finished under par. Tom Watson, 60, was one of them.
"Course knowledge is so important here," Couples said. "It was a great start for Tom and me and the other older guys. We've been here so long, we can deal with a lot of circumstances."
A lot of wind and a little rain were two of those circumstances Thursday.
"I have been playing well," said Couples, who owns three Champions Tour victories. "I have been driving and putting well all year.
"But no matter what age you are, you are always a little nervous at the start of the Masters. So when the wind was blowing, it sort of lowered my expectations and relaxed me. The putts just kept going in."
Couples made birdies at 1, 2, 8, 12, 13, 15 and 17. His only bogey was at 5.
"Putting has become the best part of my game," he said. "I'm so confident that I can be more aggressive on longer birdie putts, so more have a chance to go in."
Couples said he is not surprised to be leading, but he is thrilled.
"Can I still win at age 50?" he said. "Of course. But I still have a lot of golf ahead of me."
Reach Millians at (803) 771-8450.