But even the 44-year-old Couples, a 15-time tour winner, acknowledges he's not likely to successfully defend his title this week at the Redstone Golf Club.
'Last year was really a much better year,' he said Wednesday, a day before the start of the four-day tournament. 'Practicing paid off. I've been working, but I haven't really excelled.
'I can't foresee right now being here Sunday night,' he told reporters in the media tent where tournament officials will bring the winner.
The history of the Houston tournament backs him up.
The Houston event, first played in 1946 and the 10th oldest on the PGA Tour, never has had a back-to-back winner. It's the oldest tour stop with that notoriety.
'It's just been one of those quirks in our event,' said Steve Timms, executive director of the Houston Golf Association and the tournament director. 'This would be a good year to break that trend.'
Don't count on it.
Couples threw out his back not too long after his Houston victory and didn't have another top-10 finish until October.
So far this year, he's been in the money seven of the nine events he's entered, but has only one top 10, a tie for sixth in the Masters two weeks ago. He hasn't played since and hasn't practiced much. He's 51st on the money list and tied for 79th in scoring average.
'I would think I'm a little bit behind,' Couples said. 'I'm way off my golf game. But that could change.
'It was weird not to win for that long,' he said of the five-year victory drought. 'Once I did that, now my goal is to do it again. When is that? I don't know, but I'm sure it can happen again.'
At the same time, Couples admitted that after 24 years on the tour, 'I get kind of bored with the way I play.'
'Not bored with golf, just bored with hitting the ball over there when I want to go over there,' he said, nodding in opposite directions. 'You just get tired of that.'
He said practice and continuous play are essential, and it's what he did in the weeks leading up to the Masters. The physical toll was apparent, he said.
'I don't have the physical body like when I was 30 years old,' he said. 'I just played four out of five weeks leading up to Augusta. It was like a year.'
Vijay Singh, K.J. Choi, Jay Haas, Robert Allenby, Chris Riley and Leonard, all ranked in the top 30 in the world, also are in the field. Singh, Haas and Allenby are former Houston winners.
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