Couples Turning Back the Clock

By Associated PressMarch 13, 2008, 4:00 pm
2007 Arnold Palmer InvitationalORLANDO, Fla. -- Fred Couples made four birdies in his opening six holes, shot 5-under 65, and golf finally felt fun. Tiger Woods couldnt hit the green with a wedge, struggled to shoot even par, and he finally looked human.
 
The Arnold Palmer Invitational delivered a few surprises Thursday, none bigger than the 48-year-old Couples booming tee shots, taking only 23 putts and finishing atop the leaderboard with J.J. Henry.
 
This doesnt make me the guy to beat, Couples said. If I can play like that, it makes it a lot easier. When you birdie four out of the first six holes, theres not much that can bother you.
 
In three previous trips to Bay Hill, Henry had never done better than 71. He played under warm sunshine without a bogey, making four birdie putts outside 15 feet.
 
I feel like Ive been close, he said. And today, finally, everything clicked.
 
They were a stroke ahead of defending champion Vijay Singh, Lee Westwood, Tom Lehman and Lucas Glover, who got a pep talk from friends to quit being so hard on himself. Despite consecutive bogeys, Glover kept his cool and ended a streak of eight consecutive rounds without breaking 70.
 
For Couples, it was his best score at Bay Hill since a 63 in 1992, the year he won this tournament and was No. 1 in the world.
 
Woods is the worlds No. 1 player now, having won every tournament he has played since September. It sure didnt look that way after a birdie on the opening hole. He missed one green with a pitching wedge, another green with a sand wedge, and settled for a 70 that left him five shots behind, but not in awful shape.
 
He didnt make a lot of putts, and Woods attributed that to the each green having a different speed.
 
But he took some of the blame.
 
You had to make adjustments on the fly, he said. It would have helped if I hit more greens. I never gave myself a chance to make putts. I missed two greens with a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. I dont ever do that.
 
Woods headed home to sort it out, not overly bothered by his worst start since the Deutsche Bank Championship, which was the last time he failed to win. Besides, only 33 players managed to break par. Phil Mickelson opened with a 72.
 
Couples woke up early Thursday and began visualizing his round, figuring out where would be his best chances at birdie. He didnt see too many of those holes in his head, but it was a different story on the golf course.
 
Playing aggressively with a driver he could trust, Couples rarely had more than wedge into the green, and the suspect condition of the putting surfaces' they are recovering from a worm disease'didnt bother him in the least.
 
Im not saying theyre bad, Couples said. But I think Im a good putter when theyre not ideal.
 
After hitting some 30 yards over the green on the par-3 14th and saving par, the guy once known as Boom Boom ripped another tee shot over the corner on the 15th for a wedge into about 10 feet for his fourth birdie. His only bogey came on the par-3 17th with a shot into the bleachers.
 
And he almost dropped one at the end of his round.
 
Surrounded by trees right of the eighth fairway, where a pond guards the front of the green, Couples looked cool as ever. He studied the top of the trees, looked to the right of them, under them and out to the fairway, the whole time studying his options as if he were admiring a piece of art.
 
He finally selected an 8-iron, and while it clipped a twig, the ball had just enough distance to clear the water. He chipped to 8 feet and saved par, and kept gliding to the end of his round.
 
I took 10 minutes to hit it, but I kept trying to visualize just getting over the tree'not where I got it way up over it, so high and not far enough, he said. I think it clipped a leaf, or clipped something. I smoked it, and it was a yard from being in the water.
 
Couples has not seen his name on the leaderboard since his back-nine duel with Mickelson at the Masters two years ago, when Lefty won his second green jacket. Couples gave him a good run, describing his chances as only he can.
 
I just couldnt match him when the nitty-gritty was nitty-gritty, he said.
 
Of course, Couples hasnt had a ton of chances since then. He played only twice in the regular season a year ago because of a back injury so severe that he contemplated life without golf.
 
This is his sixth start of the year, however, and while he knows his back can go at any moment, hes relishing the times he plays well.
 
My back will go out and when it does, Ill know. And where I hit the ball, everyone else will know, Couples said. But as far as worrying about it, theres not much you can do.
 
Couples was appointed Presidents Cup captain for 2009 earlier this month, and hes still fired up about that. Most everyone believes hell be a good one, someone who brings a relaxed atmosphere from the team room to the golf course.
 
Woods has played with him in the matches, and he has been paired with him on the weekend, and he sees another side.
 
Hes a lot more tense than people think, Woods said. You see how he walks, his mannerisms. But below the surface, its raging pretty good.
 
Divots
 
Mickelson signed an endorsement deal with Barclays Couples figures there are two directions John Daly can go after getting fired by swing coach Butch Harmon and criticized for his social behavior. He can read all this stuff and say, The heck with it. Or he can read all this stuff and say, Maybe theyre correct, Couples said.
 
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”