MIAMI (AP) -- Fred Couples' roll toward the top of American golf continues.
"Freddie has confidence now," said Curtis Strange, no stranger to the peak of the world game. "That's all he's been lacking."
He lacks it no more.
"It's fun playing well at Doral. It gives you a lot of confidence. And I play off confidence," Couples said yesterday after a 6-under-par 66 gave him a share of the first-round lead in the Doral Open.
Couples, the 1991 Player of the Year, hardly needed the boost. He is coming off the high of a playoff victory last weekend in the Los Angeles Open.
And it was the snowball effect of that triumph, he said, that put him in a tie for the lead in this event with Australian Steve Elkington and journeymen Mike Smith and Loren Roberts.
"I usually feel very comfortable right after winning," Couples said. "Bogeys don't bother you. I feel very relaxed. I don't get too edgy no matter what happens."
As an illustration, he pointed to his play on the fourth through sixth holes at Doral's Blue Monster course.
Couples ran in a 30-foot par-saving putt on the fourth, then dropped 15-foot birdie putts on the next two.
"That was the whole round," he said. "If I don't make that long putt for par -- and 99 times out of 100 I don't make it -- then I probably don't birdie the next two," he said.
He also made a 20-footer to save par and said his score was "by far the best I could have done. I got the absolutely most out of it."
So did 49-year-old Ray Floyd, a two-time winner of this title who was one of seven tied at 67, a single stroke back in exceptionally low scoring. He was tied with Strange, Ben Crenshaw, Jim Gallagher, Duffy Waldorf, Fred Funk and Bobby Wadkins.
While delighted with his score, Floyd was puzzled by the flip-flop in his game. He came into this tournament saying he was playing "tee to green, the best of my life," but was being held back by questionable putting. Everything changed.
"Overall, it was easily the worst round I've played this year," he said. "And it was my best score of the year."
The reason: 13 one-putt greens.
"I love it. I love it. It's the most putts I've made in many moons," Floyd said before rushing off to consult with an architect about the reconstruction of his home, destroyed by fire two weeks ago.
Floyd was not alone in praising the putting surfaces that, the leaders agreed, was a key to the overall low scoring.
"They're so good you can't imagine missing" a putt, Roberts said.
"Fifty percent better than anything we've seen this year," said Elkington, who hit a 3-wood second shot to 10 feet for the eagle-3 that gave him a share of the lead on his 17th hole.
"Perfect. The best I've ever seen here," Couples agreed. "That's why the scores are so low."
But the low scoring did not extend to such players as defending champion Rocco Mediate, PGA title-holder John Daly and British Open champ Ian Baker-Finch.