Houston For Couples Only

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Fred Couples was in contention through two rounds of this years Players Championship when he was asked whether or not he thought he could win.
 
Its probably a long way down the road, but if I keep working and doing this, I think I can get in the hunt, he said at the time.
 
Couples has been in the hunt much of the last two months, but victory seemed just beyond his grasp. That was until Sunday, when he finally reached the end of the road.
 
The 43-year-old Couples used a late birdie run at the Redstone Golf Club in Humble, Texas, to secure his 15th career PGA Tour victory, and his first since the 1998 Memorial Tournament.
 
I owe a lot to my wife and to Butch Harmon, said the normally stoic Couples before breaking down into tears.
 
He shot his fourth sub-70 round of the week ' this time a 5-under 67 ' to finish at 21-under-par 267. Mark Calcavecchia (70), Stuart Appleby (69) and Hank Kuehne (67) tied for second at 17-under.
 
''I feel honored to win again,'' said the 1992 Masters champion. ''I played a very, very good round of golf.''
 
The former Houston Cougar became the first Houston affiliate to win near his old college town. He also pocketed a career-best $810,000 paycheck.
 
In the money department, Kuehne, who entered the week with no status on tour, collected $336,000. That was more than enough to guarantee him unlimited exemptions for the remainder of the season. He needed to finish eighth or better in Houston in order to match 150th place on the 2002 money list.
 
The win was an emotional one for Couples, who married wife Thais shortly after his Memorial win. Following an extended slump, in which he had only one top-three finish in four years, he rededicated himself to the game in late 2002 by employing the services of Harmon.
 
The results were swift in coming. He finished inside the top 15 in four straight events earlier this year, including a seventh-place finish at the Nissan Open.
 
He was two back entering the final round at The Players, but shot 74 on Sunday to fall to 10th. This Sunday story, however, had an entirely different ending.
 
Couples and Calcavecchia were tied for the lead when the former made birdie at the par-4 fourth while the latter made double bogey.
 
Couples errantly returned the favor three holes later. After Calcavecchia birdied the fifth to cut his deficit to two, Couples hit a heavy 6-iron into the water ' short and right of a green with a massive amount of safety to the left ' at the par-4 seventh.
 
He, too, made double bogey.

Calcavecchia and Couples were tied at 16-under when both ' surprisingly so ' recorded birdie at the par-3 eighth. Calcavecchias 2 wasnt astonishing, as he hit his tee shot inside of two feet. Couples, however, matched the birdie by making a 65-foot downhill roller coaster. The casual Couples threw his putter in disbelief; his good friend displayed a wry smile.
 
Couples then regained sole possession of the lead, at 18-under, when he got up and down from 110 yards at the par-5 ninth for birdie, while Calcavecchia three-putted for par.
 
But it didnt last long. After missing the fairway at the par-4 10th, Couples subsequently missed the green and made bogey.
 
The seesaw battle continued as Calcavecchia moved one clear with a birdie at 12, only to bogey 13. Couples then made a 12-footer for birdie at the par-4 14th to tie for the lead, but, for the first time Sunday, not with Calcavecchia.
 
Kuehne birdied 15, 16 and 17 to get to 18-under par, and was alone at the top prior to Couples birdie at 14.
 
The 1998 U.S. Amateur champion decided to hit driver on the par-4 finishing hole, but pulled it into the left water hazard. He managed to make bogey ' his only dropped shot of the day ' and then sat on the sidelines to await his fate.
 
'I just hit a bad shot,' Kuehne said of his tee ball at 18.
 
Appleby, whose last tour win came in this event in 1999, replaced Kuehne at 18-under by birdieing 11, 12, 14 and 15 ' and like those before him found difficulty in keeping up with Couples pace. He bogeyed 16 and made a pair of pars to finish.
 
''Calc went crazy, then Kuehne went nuts, then Appleby,'' Couples said. ''It was a lot of fun to be a part of it.''
 
Couples made a 10-foot birdie at the par-5 15th to get to 19-under. He then nearly holed a 6-iron from 176 yards at the par-4 16th. The tap-in moved him to 20-under, and gave him a comfortable cushion coming home.
 
'The shot of the day,' he called his approach.
 
Calcavecchia birdied 15 to remain two back, but bogeyed 17 after he decided to roll up his pants and enter the lake ' with shoes still on. He maintained his balance long enough to pitch his ball ' which was in the grass portion of the hazard ' to 15 feet, but narrowly missed the par save as the ball painfully died on the lip.
 
''That's the best I've ever seen Fred play,'' said Calcavecchia, whose winless drought dates back to the 2001 Phoenix Open. ''I will take out of this week that I know I am going to win again, eventually.''
 
Leading by three, Couples added to the margin of victory by making a 10-footer at the last.
 
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