Good to be back in LA

By Randall MellFebruary 19, 2011, 5:25 am

Northern Trust Open

LOS ANGELES – The ache in his back never really goes away.

Since the day Fred Couples crumpled in pain on the driving range before the final round of the Doral-Ryder Open in 1994, his back’s never been the same.

“Fred never uses it as an excuse, but I’ll tell you flat out, his back’s worse than people know,” says Joe LaCava, Couples’ long-time caddie. “A lot of people have nagging injuries, but his back’s bad.”

That’s why LaCava loved the text message Couples fired off to him when Couples decided to play the Northern Trust Open this week.

“In 21 years working with the guy, he’s probably told me three times that he’s playing well,” LaCava said. “He texts me last week, and he says `I’m playing LA. I feel like I’m playing well. I really want to play.’ So I was kind of excited to come out here, and obviously he is playing well.”

Couples is plagued this week by the same ache that’s been bothering his back for 17 years, but it’s rarely hurt so good.

With a bogey-free 5-under-par 66 Friday, Couples shot to the top of the leaderboard at the Northern Trust Open. At 51, he’s bidding to win this event for the third time.

LaCava knows what Couples can do at Riviera with a lot of confidence in his game.

That’s why LaCava wasn’t surprised Couples passed on defending his title in Naples on the Champions Tour this week. He knows what Riviera means to Couples and how much he’d like to win here again.

“I think they all understand,” Couples said of his Champions Tour colleagues. “This is my favorite place to play. The people in Naples, I don’t think they are upset. I’m sure they want me there, but I would rather be here. Even if I miss the cut, I’d still rather be here. This is a very special spot to me, and I love playing here.”

Couples got off to a fast start Friday with an eagle at the first hole. He made a 94-foot putt.

“It’s the longest putt I’ve ever seen anyone hit, let alone make,” said Anthony Kim, who played alongside Couples.

Couples gave Kim a clinic on how to play Riviera.

“He was playing like he was my age,” said Kim, whose nine shots behind Couples. “He’s young in his mind.”

Couples said he feels good over most shots. Surprisingly, his back doesn’t bother him when he takes a big swing with his driver. It bothers him when he’s over a short iron or pitching wedge.

“He knows he has to bend over more, and he knows he’s going to take a divot,” LaCava said.

Midway through the second round, Couples was seventh in the field in driving distance, averaging 298 yards a wallop.

Mostly, Couples’ back bothers him when he’s just standing around waiting to hit a shot or away from the course. It also affects his sleep.

“Standing here,” Couples said while fidgeting in front of a microphone after his round, “it feels like a toothache. By 8 tonight, you’re just ready to hit somebody.”

Couples is planning some special new treatment on Monday, but he’s being mysterious about the nature of it.

Surely, though, a victory this weekend will feel like healing medicine.

“I feel like I can play this course blindfolded,” Couples said. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to shoot a good round . . . I’ve played 150 rounds on this course, probably. I don’t think anyone in this field has played as many rounds as I have. So that’s an advantage for me.”

Actually, Couples has now played 101 round in this event at Riviera, but that is more than anyone else in the field. Corey Pavin’s played 96 here.

Couples won four times on the Champions Tour last year, and he said the confidence gained winning there helps him this week. He’s seeking his 16th PGA Tour title, his first since the 2003 Shell Houston Open. If he wins at Riviera, he won’t be the oldest winner of a PGA Tour event. Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open when he was 52 years and 10 months old. Still, winning would do a lot for Couples as he prepares for the Masters in seven weeks. Couples won his only major in ’92 at Augusta National but showed last year he can still be a factor there by finishing sixth.

If Couples wins this week, anything will seem possible going to Augusta National, a place he finds as enchanting as Riviera.


Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

Getty Images

Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.

Getty Images

Wie takes shot at LPGA dress code in crop top

By Grill Room TeamDecember 10, 2017, 5:33 pm

The new LPGA dress code got mixed reviews when it was announced in July, and Michelle Wie is taking full advantage of her offseason with no restrictions.

The 28-year-old former U.S. Women's Open champion is keeping her game sharp while back in her home state of Hawaii, but couldn't help taking a shot at the rules while doing it, posting a photo to Instagram of her playing golf in a crop top with the caption, "Offseason = No dress code fine."

Offseason = No dress code fines #croptopdroptop

A post shared by Michelle Wie (@themichellewie) on

Wie isn't the first to voice her displeasure with the rules. Lexi Thompson posted a similar photo and caption to Instagram shortly after the policy was announced.