By REX HOGGARD
Freddie Couples will win the Northern Trust Open at 51 years young because after Tom Watson in Scotland and . . . well, Couples at Augusta National, no other venue on the PGA Tour transcends age like Riviera Country Club.
At 7,219 yards, Riviera is one of the few Tour layouts that rewards experience over power, not that Couples is wanting for distance even at his advanced age.
At the Waste Management Phoenix Open two weeks ago, he ranked 23rd in the field with a 301-yard driving average.
No, the man who led the over-50 tour last year in putting average has the power and putter to turn back the clock. But what will fuel Couples’ timeless triumph will be his extended resume at equally timeless Riviera.
This week is Couples’ 29th start at the Los Angeles gem – 105 rounds, 19 top-15 finishes, two victories, albeit 18 years ago, and just two missed cuts.
For “Boom Boom” the Riv is every bit the friendly confines and through three rounds he’s just one shot off the lead.
On his way to the golf course on Thursday, Couples told longtime caddie Joe LaCava that he was “playing well.” It was just the third time in his career he’d said that.
Maybe he knew that neither the golf course, nor the game cares how old he is.
By JAY COFFIN
In journalism we’re taught to cheer for no one, cheer against no one but to always root for the best story.
Fred Couples winning the Northern Trust Open at 51 years old would easily be the best story of the week, if not the whole year so far. I hope Couples finds the Fountain of Youth Sunday and wins at his beloved Riviera.
But don’t get your hopes up, because I don’t believe Couples will win. For starters, the odds are stacked against him. His longtime caddie Joe LaCava told reporters earlier this week that Couples' back hurts more than people realize. To think it’ll feel great another day is unreasonable.
There are also 11 others players within five shots of leader Aaron Baddeley, who is at 10 under. That gaggle of players doesn’t include any heavy hitters but it does include several who could be dangerous.
Baddeley has already won twice on Tour and is no slouch. Kevin Na is tied with Couples at 9-under. Na is often thrown into the infamous group of best players on the PGA Tour without a victory. Vijay Singh is a shot behind Couples and Na and, at 47, realistically may not have too many more chances to win. He hasn’t won since 2008. Robert Allenby, Stewart Cink, J.B. Holmes and Justin Rose are all Tour winners and capable of collecting another on Sunday.
My heart hopes Couples does the unthinkable, but my gut tells me it won’t happen.