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Couples takes 3-shot lead at ACE Group

ACE Group Classic (Round 2)

NAPLES, Fla. – Fred Couples was in position for his first Champions Tour victory. He’ll have to hold on to the lead at the ACE Group Classic for at least 23 holes on Sunday to do it.

Couples sank a 48-foot putt from well off the green on No. 12 for eagle, then made a 12-footer for birdie on No. 13 to reach 9 under before second-round play was called due to darkness Saturday.

“You’ve got to keep birdieing holes,” said Couples, who is playing in his first full-field event on the tour. “It’s not like I can go out there and keep this lead and get in cruise control. You’ve got to keep plowing away.

“My goal is to win on this tour, and the sooner the better.”

Playing partner Dan Forsman was in second place, three shots back at 6 under. The two shared the first-round lead at 4 under after finishing their first rounds earlier Saturday.

“He was burning the hole the whole back nine … All of a sudden there, he caught fire,” Forsman said of Couples. “I guess we called time out and hope we can regroup (Sunday) and catch him.”

Couples is one of 38 golfers who must come back Sunday morning to complete their second rounds at The Quarry. The tournament was pushed back after high wind postponed the first round Friday afternoon.

When the first round ended early Saturday afternoon, Couples and Forsman both finished 4-under 68 to share the lead.

Bernhard Langer is the only one near the top of the leaderboard to have completed the second round. He’s shot 6-under 66 and is tied for third, four shots behind Couples, along with Mike Goodes, Scott Hoch, Tommy Armour III and Ronnie Black. Langer moved up the leaderboard with an eagle on No. 12 and a birdie on No. 17.

Paul Azinger, a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour and captain of the victorious 2008 Ryder Cup team, is making his Champions Tour debut at The Quarry, the tournament’s third site in three years. He was even par with three holes left.

The 50-year-old Couples is coming off a 37th-place tie last week in the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera. He made two senior starts in Hawaii last month, teaming with Nick Price to finish third in the Champions Skins, then losing to Tom Watson by a stroke in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship.

After Couples rimmed out a birdie putt on No. 11, he was 30 feet off the front of the green on No. 12. He did not consider chipping it, because of the tight lie on the paspalum grass. He putted the ball up to the green, and it rolled the final 18 feet into the cup.

“I figured if I’m going to skin a chip shot, it’s going to check or do something crazy, so I just tried to putt it most of the times,” he said.

Golfers were scheduled to come back at 8 a.m. Sunday to finish their second rounds, with the final round tee times from 10:15 a.m.-12:25 p.m.

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