Fan favorite Freddie back


In the wake of recent events at Royal Birkdale, it appears that nostalgia is a functional band-aid to the bleeding caused by the absence of the injured Tiger Woods, much to the surprise of those who declared the PGA TOUR dead without the worlds No. 1 player.
If a 53-year old Greg Norman can contend at the British Open and draw the superlatives of fans around the globe, then perhaps, the most significant entry into the field at this weeks RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey is fan favorite Fred Couples.
Like the Shark last weekend, Couples, 48, will need to catch the galleries off-guard with his play, but being able to contend is not that outrageous since he has three top-10 finishes in 12 starts this year, including a tie for fourth at the Shell Houston Open in April.
The last PGA TOUR victory for Couples, who has missed just two cuts in 2008, came five years ago at the Houston Open, but no matter what happens during this soggy Canadian Open, Couples is likely to spark a few Fredd-ie, Fredd-ie chants just like old times.
I grew up in Seattle, so Ive been to Vancouver a lot. I think the people, they all make the event and the galleries are huge at the Canadian Open, said the 1992 Masters champ.
Its nice to see that theyre moving it. They played at Shaughnessy (in Vancouver) -- I wish I would have played. I hear (2005 champion Mark Calcavecchia) calling it one of the greatest courses hes ever played.
So familiarity does not breed contempt in Couples relationship with this country, but success has also softened him after winning the Canadian Skins Game five times and pocketing a cool $1,140,000 in nine appearances.
There are other fond memories, too.
One of my first years playing up here, playing with (Jack) Nicklaus, which was amazing early in my career and then, obviously, some good Skins Games and winning those, he said.
With that in mind, Couples says nothing should be read into the fact that he has been absent from the Canadian Open since 1995, when he tied for 34th at Glen Abbey. He has played nine Canadian Opens with his best performance a second-place finish in 1993.
I like the Canadian Open, he said. Oddly enough, Ive never played the Canadian Open outside of this golf course. Ive had great memories here and Ive never really done well with a chance of winning, but Ive usually played pretty decent here.
I think were here again next year, so Ive got one more year to play in this thing and then, maybe theyll have a Champions (Tour) event here.'
Over the past couple of seasons, Couples has been plagued by health problems. In late 2006, he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm that hospitalized him after tying for third at the Masters that year.
Last year, back problems limited Couples to just three official events and he didnt play a tournament after the Masters.
The Champions Tour is on the horizon, but Couples will make one more whirl around the PGA Tour next year before serving as captain of the American team at the Presidents Cup in San Francisco.
I dont want to look past being the captain, he said of his immediate future.
Ill be on the Tour next year, so Ill be playing and seeing some of the guys and doing that. I think towards the end, Ill look forward to the (Champions Tour), but I dont want to look past playing and then, being the captain, he said.
My (50th) birthday is in October, so as soon as the Presidents Cup is over, on Monday, Ill go to Houston and play my first senior event, if I can do it. I dont really want to take a lot of time off and go play poorly in my first one.'
Wherever he ends up on the leaderboard, fans are usually following him and any kind of excitement is good news these days for a Tiger-less Tour.
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Toronto Sun Editor's Note: Ian Hutchinson is golf columnist for the Toronto Sun. He is also a frequent contributor to Golf Scene and Golf Canada Magazine, the official magazine of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.