Watch for Some Unusual Suspects This Week


The more attention we pay to Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, the more people like Fred Couples, Butch Harmon and Darren Clarke get to fly under the radar.
It's news when Tiger changes shirts. Bigger news than you might imagine. Els, for his part, has fallen into the zone. Yes that zone. The one we all dream about. And he has stayed there. Mickelson melted at Torrey Pines Sunday when Woods torched him in the final round of the Buick Invitational.
Couples, meanwhile, has quietly made three cuts in a row. He tees it up Thursday in the Nissan Open at Riviera Country Club, a place he finished 19th or better--including winning twice--during a nine-year period beginning in 1989. And the word from the left coast is he's starting to take this stuff seriously again.
'He's tired of finishing 40th every week,' said Harmon, who is working with Couples now and will continue to do so this year. 'He still thinks he can win. He's totally committed.'
Couples is 43 and hasn't won since The Memorial in 1998. But he loves Riviera and has had more success there than the incomparable Woods, who hasn't finished first in six tries on that golf course.
Speaking of Woods and Harmon: They may not be back together officially and full time. But they spent time on Harmon's range in Las Vegas prior to Woods' victory last week. And Harmon is still listed on Woods' website along with caddie Steve Williams when you click the 'Team Tiger' icon. So if Woods and Harmon have split, they're doing a pretty good job hiding it.
Clarke, meanwhile, has done a pretty good job hiding his massive talent ever since dusting Woods, 4 and 3, in the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship three years ago. The big Ulsterman from Northern Ireland's volatile County Tyrone has dropped to No. 26 in the world rankings and off of most people's short lists of best players never to have won a major.
You'll never guess whose range Clarke showed up on recently - if you said Butch Harmon, give yourself high marks for reading comprehension. Like Couples, Clarke has gotten serious about a return to form. He recently signed a three-year deal with TaylorMade and sacked his longtime caddie, Billy Foster, for J.P. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald used to carry the bag of another Irishman, Ryder Cup hero Paul McGinley.
'Darren's a hard guy to work for,' said his agent, Chubby Chandler, explaining that Foster had begun to fear telling Clarke things he didn't want to hear. One of the worst things that can develop is a reluctance on the part of a caddie to warn his player when he's about to use the wrong club or play the wrong shot.
Clarke's stubbornness is a close relative to his determination. And that's why Harmon likes working with him. 'The commitment is back with Darren, too,' Harmon said. 'He went all last year trying different things. He's in better shape now and more committed to being the best player he can be.'
So watch Tiger Woods this week at Riviera. See if he continues to wear those Nike muscle shirts that he now orders in 'large' rather than 'extra large,' the better to show off his guns. See if Woods finally breaks through at the tournament where he played his first PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old.
But don't be surprised if Couples and Clarke both wind up on the first page of the leaderboard by Sunday. Couples finished 13th last week in San Diego. Clarke was disqualified when he signed an incorrect scorecard. But he was playing well and carded an ace in his first round.
These two guys are too good to stay under radar too long.