Couples Past His Prime But Win Was Sweet

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It was just 10 years ago, in 1992, that Fred Couples was perhaps the best player in the world. He won the Nissan Los Angeles Open. He won at Bay Hill and he won his only major, the Masters. He was No. 1 on the PGA Tour money list. Only Nick Faldo and Greg Norman could legitimately challenge him.
 
So much has happened in these 10 years. Freddie blew out his back. It happened on the driving range at Doral. Poof ' and it was gone, leaving Couples writhing in pain where before he was lobbing balls in the Florida sunshine. That same year, 1994, his mother died, then his father. He got a divorce which cost him $52,000 a month. In 1997, girlfriend Thais Bren underwent surgery for breast cancer.
 
And on top of it all, he finally suffered burn-out. He still had a pretty decent golf game, but years and years of playing finally caught up with his psyche. Sometime around the year 2000, he cut his schedule down to the barest and began living the life of husband to Thais and father to her two children.
 
Fred, now 43, has come full circle. He is just as attentive a husband and father, but he again is an attentive golfer. If only he could go back to 1998, when he won for the final two times in his career.
 
One of them was the 1998 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, when he roared up from behind to catch Bruce Lietzke on the last hole of regulation, then got the win on the first hole of overtime. Couples went on to win The Memorial that season also, but there never was anything like his win at the Bob Hope.
 
Lietzke was 46 years old and long into his reduced schedule at the 98 Hope. But he played flawlessly, as he nearly always did when he reached his 40s. He and Andrew Magee traded outstanding round after outstanding round, and at the end of 72 holes, they were tied for the lead at 25-under par.
 
Couples was three shots back but tied for third place, doing just well enough to get in the final threesome. And when he three-putted the third hole he was five shots behind. I figured I was about done there, he said.
 
Something happened at the ninth hole, however, which was an omen for what was to come three hours later. A Couples drive was heading out-of-bounds, burying him with finality, when it suddenly bonked into a cart driven by announcer Roger Maltbie. And from there Fred was able to make birdie, saving himself three shots. Then he came out of a backyard on 14 to birdie again. Now he was tied with Magee, one shot behind Lietzke.
 
He was still trailing by a shot when they got to the 90th hole. But it was there that Couples hammered a 3-wood onto the putting surface at the par-5 hole while Lietzke came up short. Couples two-putted for the tying birdie, while Lietzke missed a 12-footer, taking a par and then heading back to 18 for the playoff.
 
Back they went to the 18th tee, with very nearly identical results as the final hole of regulation. Again Lietzke couldnt reach the green. Couples put his second close to the green ' this time from 250 yards with a 3-wood.
 
Lietzke came up to within 15 feet with his fourth shot. Freddie had gone into the bleachers near 18 on the second shot but got a free drop. With his third, he lobbed the ball to within three feet.
 
Lietzke missed the 15-footer, leaving Couples the potential birdie. Fred rammed home the short one, making him the winner.
 
Related Link:
  • Fred Couples' Bio