Former champions in contention after first round of Masters

Couples, Johnson and Immelman use course knowledge to start strong

Former Masters champions Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman and patron favorite Fred Couples put their names on the leaderboard on the opening day of the 2013 Masters Tournament.

Immelman and Couples are tied for fourth place with four others after shooting 4-under 68s, while Johnson came away with 3-under 69 for a 10th place tie.

The trio will try to chase down first-round leaders Marc Leishman and Sergio Garcia, who had each 6-under 66.

The 53-year-old Couples, 37-year-old Johnson and 33-year-old Immelman each said knowing how to avoid trouble on the Augusta National Golf Course comes only from Masters playing experience.

Between them, they have played in 49 Masters.

Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, is making his 29th appearance, seeing his name on a leaderboard is sort of like seeing a pimento cheese sandwich at one of the concession stands.

Couples, to the delight of his cheering fans, produced a round of six birdies, 10 pars and bogeys at Nos. 6 and 18.

“I know how to play the course,” Couples said. “That’s not the problem. It’s where I’m standing and where the ball goes that can be the problem. This was a good day. ... I made a few key putts and I’m in great shape. Honestly, it’s not surprising if I hit the ball the way I did today.”

Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion, played a bogey-free round. The highlight of his four birdies came at No. 17, where he stiffed his second shot for a tap-in three on the par 4.

“Any time you can shoot under par at a major you are really happy about it,” said the South African. “I like everything about this place from the drive in. I really think there is something about coming back to the same venue every year. Imagine if we played the (British) Open Championship at The Old Course every year. There might be something similar. When you are a young this is the place you want the opportunity to play.”

Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, opened his round with a bogey, birdied the par-5 second hole, then fired off 10 consecutive pars. He closed with birdies on Nos. 13, 14 and 18.

“You are always going to have winning in your memory bank,” Johnson said. “I don’t try and dwell on it, but certainly I’m going to bring out some of the things that I remember that year, especially from a confidence standpoint.”

Couples and Immelman certainly enjoyed Thursday, but they are not getting carried away with the praise.

“I would say a 14-year-old shooting 1-over is better than a 53-year-old shooting 4-under,” Couples said of amateur Tianlang Guan’s 73 on Thursday. “That’s phenomenal.”

“There’s a long ways to go in this tournament,” Immelman said. “If I’m there on Sunday with nine holes to go, then having won here will help.”