Notes Couples Back Skins Power Gone


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Fred Couples will end a nearly eight-month break from competition when he returns to the LG Skins Game this weekend, competing alongside defending champion Stephen Ames, Masters champion Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich.
The star power is gone, but Couples says that was bound to happen.
'A hundred years ago, we had Watson, Palmer, Player and Nicklaus,' he said, referring to the first field at the Skins Game in 1983. 'You're never going to get any better than that. We're going to have a good time, and we're going to play some golf and enjoy it.'
What to expect from Couples?
He has been taking baby steps since trying to return from a severe back injury that has kept him out of competition since the Masters, and it sounds as though he took one giant step over the weekend by shooting 60 at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas to tie the course record held by a certain Tiger Woods.
This is the ideal place for Couples to return.
'I've made a lot of bonehead shots and a lot of brilliant shots,' he said. 'And that's really what you want to do in these things.'
Along with deciding on a schedule, booking flights and hotel rooms and working on their swings, most LPGA Tour players spent a good chunk of the 2007 season studying up on drugs.
The next time they play on tour, some of them will be tested under a new policy that starts next year. And while they believe they are clean, some of them are leaving nothing to chance.
'I'm going to have my doctor apply for medical waivers for everything he has ever prescribed for me,' U.S. Women's Open champion Cristie Kerr said. 'Not necessarily any medication I'm taking now, but anything I've ever needed -- like antibiotics. The closer we are to testing, you just want to be safe.'
Otherwise, Kerr said she's not worried about what a test might reveal 'unless there's something in red wine I don't know about.'
Paula Creamer said she spent a lot of time reading this year.
'You have to be aware of what goes in your body,' she said. 'We've already learned a lot about what's in protein bars.'
The LPGA Tour will be the first golf organization to embark on a drug policy, and the penalties are severe -- one-year suspension for the first offense to a lifetime ban for the third offense.
There will be no difference in punishment for positive tests of performance-enhancing drugs or recreational drugs. Jill Pilgrim, the LPGA Tour general counsel who is administering the program, said marijuana would constitutes a downer and cocaine works like an upper.
'Technically, they are enhancing your performance,' she said.
The LPGA Tour would not say at which tournament the random drug testing would begin, although the first opportunity will be the Women's World Cup in South Africa that starts Jan. 18.
Like many players, Karrie Webb is most concerned about supplements, knowing exactly what's in them. For someone who has been around a dozen years on the LPGA Tour, she expects the veteran players to be the most uneasy.
'It would be one thing for the next generation who grows up with drug testing when they start playing a sport,' Webb said. 'But here we are in the middle of our careers.'
One year after he beat Tiger Woods to win the HSBC Championship, Y.E. Yang captured another tournament that was meaningful in a much different way. Yang was the medalist by one shot over Bob May at Oak Valley, one of six qualifiers in the second stage of Q-school on the PGA TOUR.
That puts him in the final stage, which begins Nov. 28 in Orlando.
Other notable players who advanced to the 108-hole final were U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Colt Knost, former Ryder Cup players Chris Riley and Steve Pate, and Notah Begay, who had European Tour membership last year. Also advancing to the final stage was Casey Wittenberg, who has toiled the last two years in minor leagues like the Hooters Tour.
Former PGA champion Mark Brooks failed to get past the second stage and will have to rely on his status as a past champion. Also failing to advance to the finals were Pablo Martin of Spain, former U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes and Tripp Isenhour, who had a chance to avoid the second stage until closing with a 75 at Disney in the final PGA TOUR event of the year.
The U.S. Open is considered the toughest test in golf, and it sure played like it this year. Along with the highest winning score to par this year on the PGA TOUR -- 5 over by Angel Cabrera -- Oakmont had seven of the 20 hardest holes.
Augusta National, where Zach Johnson became the first Masters champion in 51 years to finish over par, had four of the top 20.
The toughest hole was No. 18 on the Blue Monster at Doral, which averaged 4.625 shots for a par 4. Tiger Woods made bogey, hitting iron off the tee to protect his two-shot lead.
The top three toughest holes were all the last one. The second-toughest was No. 18 at Carnoustie (4.611), where Padraig Harrington made double bogey and still won the British Open. That was followed by No. 18 at Oakmont (4.602).
The four majors accounted for 13 of the 20 toughest holes.
Oakmont played as the toughest course with an average score of 75.7 on the par 70.
One of the classiest evenings of the year is the Rolex Awards on the LPGA Tour, held at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in West Palm Beach.
The highlight belonged to Angela Park, the rookie of the year.
Halfway through a humble and gracious speech in which she thanked her family and supporters, she paid tribute to her parents and her heritage by speaking in three languages -- Korean, Portuguese and English. Park's family is from South Korea, she was born in Brazil and grew up in California.
Her mother wiped tears from her eyes during the speech, and later took pictures, including one of the Donald.
Indianwood Golf and Country Club outside Detroit will host the U.S. Senior Open in 2012. ... The Nationwide Tour Championship will move next year to the TPC Craig Ranch in Dallas and offer a $1 million purse, the largest in the tour's history. ... Alena Sharp became the first Canadian to finish higher than Lorie Kane on the LPGA Tour's money list since 1996. 'My goal is to be the best in the world, not just the best in Canada,' said Sharp, 26, who finished at No. 57 on the money list. ... The winning U.S. Solheim Cup team is headed to the White House next week for a visit with President Bush. ... Sergio Garcia at least set one PGA TOUR record this year. He earned $3,721,185, the most of anyone without winning a tournament.
With her $4,364,994, Lorena Ochoa would have finished No. 7 on the PGA TOUR money list.
'I wish like hell I could have played for this kind of money. But if not for me, they wouldn't be playing for it, either.' -- Louise Suggs, 84, one of the 13 founders of the LPGA Tour.
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