NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – It didn’t take long for Fred Couples to adjust to the Champions Tour, though his quick assimilation surprised even him.
Couples will be seeking his third consecutive top 3 finish when The Toshiba Classic begins Friday at the Newport Beach Country Club.
He finished second to Tom Watson by a stroke in his tour debut at the Mitsubishi Electric Open, then came back and won the Ace Group Classic.
“I’ve gotten off to a great start,” Couples said. “To finish second to Tom Watson was a great week and then to win at Naples was a blessing to win my first Champions Tour event that fast.”
There was no indication Couples would struggle on the Champions Tour, but he hadn’t won a PGA Tour event since the 2003 Shell Houston Open, so the 50-year-old had his doubts.
“I had a great shot of winning my first one,” Couples said. “I’ve never had negative thoughts, but I thought, ‘God if I get in contention and I battle with some guy, I haven’t really won a tournament in a long time. I may not close the deal.”’
Winning certainly isn’t foreign to Couples, who has been on the PGA Tour since 1981 and has 15 tour victories, including the 1992 Masters. While some professionals play nearly exclusively on the Champions Tour when they become eligible, Couples is going to play a handful of events on the PGA Tour as well. So far this year on the PGA Tour he finished tied for 37th at the Northern Trust Open and tied for 14th at last week’s Phoenix Open.
“Even at 49 or 50 on the regular tour, my expectations are to play well,” Couples said. “Now am I going to win on the regular tour? You know I had a couple of chances last year.”
But Couples likes his chances better with his peers on the Champions Tour.
“I think I will win more, but my expectations are always to play well,” Couples said. “If that means getting around the course and finishing fifth and I felt like I played well, then I think that’s a good week.”
John Cook, who has won four times in three years on the Champions Tour, believes Couples will thrive.
“It’s great to have Fred out,” Cook said. “We would like to have him out as much as he feels like he wants to play. You know that when Fred is in the field he is the guy, the guy to beat.”
Couples is part of a needed injection of players eligible to play the Champions Tour. Corey Pavin, Tommy Armour III, Tom Lehman, Tom Pernice, Paul Azinger are all first-year players on the 50-and-over tour.
“The caliber of play coming out is obviously very good,” Cook said. “These guys have won a lot of tournaments and we have as well. It’s just going to get stronger and stronger.”
About the only element that could derail Couples is his historically finicky back. It has been an issue with Couples for many years and it actually delayed his Champions Tour debut.
“November, my back was gone,” Couples said. “At the end of last year I could have played at Houston and San Antonio after the President’s Cup, but I was playing no golf at that time. I didn’t want to go just go through the motions and be a guy in the tournament.”
If his health holds up however, Couples should be someone the other players will have to contend with for many years.
“There is no real mystery to Fred Couples,” Cook said. “He is very, very good. He has always been good.”