By REX HOGGARD
Freddie Couples will win the Northern Trust Open at 51 years young because after Tom Watson in Scotland and . . . well, Couples at Augusta National, no other venue on the PGA Tour transcends age like Riviera Country Club.
At 7,219 yards, Riviera is one of the few Tour layouts that rewards experience over power, not that Couples is wanting for distance even at his advanced age.
At the Waste Management Phoenix Open two weeks ago, he ranked 23rd in the field with a 301-yard driving average.
No, the man who led the over-50 tour last year in putting average has the power and putter to turn back the clock. But what will fuel Couples’ timeless triumph will be his extended resume at equally timeless Riviera.
This week is Couples’ 29th start at the Los Angeles gem – 105 rounds, 19 top-15 finishes, two victories, albeit 18 years ago, and just two missed cuts.
For “Boom Boom” the Riv is every bit the friendly confines and through three rounds he’s just one shot off the lead.
On his way to the golf course on Thursday, Couples told longtime caddie Joe LaCava that he was “playing well.” It was just the third time in his career he’d said that.
Maybe he knew that neither the golf course, nor the game cares how old he is.
By JAY COFFIN
In journalism we’re taught to cheer for no one, cheer against no one but to always root for the best story.
Fred Couples winning the Northern Trust Open at 51 years old would easily be the best story of the week, if not the whole year so far. I hope Couples finds the Fountain of Youth Sunday and wins at his beloved Riviera.
But don’t get your hopes up, because I don’t believe Couples will win. For starters, the odds are stacked against him. His longtime caddie Joe LaCava told reporters earlier this week that Couples' back hurts more than people realize. To think it’ll feel great another day is unreasonable.
There are also 11 others players within five shots of leader Aaron Baddeley, who is at 10 under. That gaggle of players doesn’t include any heavy hitters but it does include several who could be dangerous.
Baddeley has already won twice on Tour and is no slouch. Kevin Na is tied with Couples at 9-under. Na is often thrown into the infamous group of best players on the PGA Tour without a victory. Vijay Singh is a shot behind Couples and Na and, at 47, realistically may not have too many more chances to win. He hasn’t won since 2008. Robert Allenby, Stewart Cink, J.B. Holmes and Justin Rose are all Tour winners and capable of collecting another on Sunday.
My heart hopes Couples does the unthinkable, but my gut tells me it won’t happen.
Can 51-year-old Fred Couples win the Northern Trust Open
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia
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.
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.
Green jacket tour
Man of the people
Ace at 17th at Sawgrass
Departure from TaylorMade
Squashed beef with Paddy
Victory at Valderrama
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates:
No. 4: Dec. 13
No. 3: Dec. 14
No. 2: Dec. 15
No. 1: Dec. 18
Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf
Well, this is a one new one.
According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:
“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”
Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.
“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.
The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.
“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”
The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.
Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.
Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.
PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation
Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.
The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.
The statement reads:
The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.
Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.
The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.
The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.
The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.