Couples turns back clock at Riviera

By Doug FergusonFebruary 19, 2011, 3:06 am

Northern Trust Open

LOS ANGELES – Despite a bad back that hurts when he stoops over a short iron, Fred Couples navigated around his favorite tour course without a bogey Friday for a 5-under 66 that gave him the early lead in the Northern Trust Open.

It helped that he knocked in an eagle putt of nearly 100 feet on his opening hole, along with a pair of 30-foot birdie putts. But even for a 51-year-old well past his prime, he was carried along by a languid swing and his love for Riviera.

“I feel like I can play this course blindfolded,” Couples said.

Some of his peers couldn’t believe what they saw.

“He played like he was my age,” said 25-year-old Anthony Kim, who was paired with Couples and was nine shots behind. “He was loose, swinging hard. He hit some quality shots, some aggressive shots. It doesn’t hurt that he’s won here a couple of times. He just knows what he’s doing out here.”

Couples first played Riviera three years before Kim was born. He won in 1990 and 1992, back when his hair was brown, not mostly gray, and when he didn’t have to get up at 4 a.m. to stretch out his back so he could make it to the first tee.

The affection from the gallery hasn’t changed.

From the other side of the par-5 first green, Couples rapped a putt and watched it roll some 100 feet toward the cup and drop for an eagle. The cheer was loud enough for players still on the practice range to look up.

One player jokingly said, “Couples just made a 10-footer for par.”

Paul Casey, who had a 67 and was four shots back, played in the group behind Couples. Asked how it felt to trail a 51-year-old who can barely bend over to tie his shoes, Casey started laughing.

“Every time I looked ahead, he’s stretching his back, his hand is on his hip,” Casey said. “We all know Freddie. He looks like he doesn’t care. He looks like he’s in pain. He could be on any score. And the fact he’s on 8 under is brilliant.”

Couples was at 8-under 134 heading into what could be a soggy weekend. The rain began to fall late in the afternoon as half of the field was trying to cope with tougher conditions.

J.B. Holmes was tied for the lead until a double bogey on the last hole gave him a 69.

Phil Mickelson struggled with his irons on his way to a 70 that put him seven shots behind, although not terribly worried.

“I’m not pleased being in the position where I’m at, but it could be a lot worse,” Mickelson said. “And I should be within striking distance if I can go out and shoot some hot round tomorrow.”

That he would be trying to catch up to Couples was surprising given his age and his health. Casey, however, said course knowledge and good vibes only go so far.

“I don’t care how well he knows this course, and he probably knows it as well as the members,” Casey said. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t hit the golf ball where you need to.”

Such is his affection for Riviera that Couples didn’t think twice about playing this week – even though he is the defending champion at the Champions Tour event in Naples, Fla.

“I don’t think anyone is mad. Besides Augusta, it’s my favorite spot,” Couples said. “I don’t think it’s a slap in the face if they just look where I live and my schedule and how I play here. It would take two seconds to figure it out.”

Couples not only has two wins at Riviera, he has four top 10s in the last decade and nearly had a chance to win two years ago until he butchered a 9-iron into the 18th with a chance to put pressure on Mickelson.

He was 49, and that figured to be his last chance to win on tour.

Yet here is again, twisting and stretching, taking left-handed baseball swings with his putter while trying to keep loose. The hardest part for Couples after his round was climbing the 100-foot hill toward the clubhouse to sign his card.

When the tour asked him to visit The Golf Channel’s booth, Couples said, “Can’t do it.”

“I’m ready for a nap,” he said.

He was up at 4 a.m. to stretch and get treatment on what he called a “back machine.” It was still dark when he got to the practice range, and he kept to his routine in which he only hits long clubs – the driver, 5-wood and hybrids – because to bend over a short iron hurts. He’d rather wait until the shot counts to do that.

“I don’t consider this warming up,” Couples said. “I just think it’s waiting for my tee time to come.”

And he came out swinging, with the long eagle putt on No. 1, a 35-foot birdie putt on the ninth, a 30-footer on the 15th and a series of scary putts in the 5-foot range for pars. He has gone 32 holes without a bogey at Riviera.

For two rounds, he looks as young as ever. But that only goes so far.

He went to see “The Social Network,” but only because it starred Justin Timberlake. Couples still doesn’t know what Facebook is all about. Remember, it was only two years ago that he started sending text messages (he received one after his round from Tiger Woods).

As for Twitter? Uh, no.

“If I did Twitter, would I tell people that I’m heading home and then going to eat at California Pizza Kitchen? Is that what you do? Or do you actually tweet information?” he said. “Well, what information do I have for my 500,000 followers? I’m 51. I live in the desert. They all know that already.

“If you guys write well enough, they’ll know that I’m in good shape going into tomorrow. I don’t need to tweet anybody.”

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.


Masters victory


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Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ


Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

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Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket


Man of the people


Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

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Ace at 17th at Sawgrass


Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

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Departure from TaylorMade


Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade


Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

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Victory at Valderrama


Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm