Couples Easing Back into Career

By Associated PressNovember 6, 2007, 5:00 pm
For the first time in five years, a week in November will go by without any tournament sanctioned by the PGA TOUR.
 
Not to worry.
 
The new FedExCup did not kill off the silly season, which arrives later this month when the LG Skins Game celebrates its 25th anniversary and marks the return of Fred Couples to competition.
 
Couples is the undisputed king of the silly season, a title he doesn't mind as long as it's mentioned in November instead of March. He has earned more money in his career at the Skins Game ($3.9 million) than the four majors combined ($3.5 million).
 
Since 2002, he has played 91 times on the PGA TOUR and earned $6.4 million, then played 14 times when the season was over and collected $3.3 million.
 
Only this year, the silly season has never been more meaningful to him.
 
Couples, one of the most popular players on the PGA TOUR, has been coping with a faulty back the last 13 years, but this was the first time he wondered if his career might be over.
 
'I thought it wouldn't be the end of the world,' he said. 'Playing golf is great, and I've done it for 26 years. But the last three years have been horrible.'
 
Even with a back that could go out at any moment, Couples has managed to play at least 15 times a year (regular season), and five of his 15 victories since he first hurt his back in 1994 have included THE PLAYERS Championship and the Memorial.
 
This year was different.
 
He missed the cut at the FBR Open in Phoenix, noteworthy only because he has made the cut 82 percent of the time in his career.
 
Warming up for the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, his back went out on the first tee at Poppy Hills, and he got the caddie for his pro-am partner -- who happened to be a club pro from New Jersey -- to fill in for him.
 
He had to withdraw from the Nissan Open, a tournament he had played every year since 1981 and won twice. It was a struggle to get to Augusta National, and a minor miracle that he made the cut on the number, but only because the course was so difficult. Couples shot 76-76 and made it to the weekend through the 10-shot rule. He remains the only Masters champion to have never missed the cut.
 
Stretching, twisting and massaging his back at every turn, he closed with a 71 and tied for 30th.
 
That was April 8. And that was his last competitive round.
 
It got so bad that Couples contemplated surgery, and only after he sought more opinions did he decide against it.
 
'Other years, I've missed some events,' he said. 'But the last few years, I would go to my knees, I can't move, I'm locked up. I'm somebody you see when they're crunched over. It gets to be a week before you walk around, a week or two to get feeling decent, then practice, then go to Bay Hill and play horrible. It stinks.'
 
It seems odd that no one has seen Couples since the Masters.
 
Even when he's not contending, he has a presence on the golf course that endears him to fans and players around the world.
 
Maybe this was just a coincidence, but at the British Open one year, the practice range was divided with European players on the right side and American players on the left. Couples sauntered onto the range and took a spot in the middle of the Europeans, and the chatter and laughter picked up immediately.
 
'It's been strange not to see him. He's a blast. Rocks are flying when he's around,' Justin Leonard said. 'But it's not like you can pick up the phone and call him.'
 
That was a reference to when Couples famously said that he doesn't answer the phone because 'I get the feeling whenever I do that there will be someone on the other end.'
 
He called last week while driving back from Waco, Texas, where he has been seeing John Patterson, a back specialist whose clientele includes Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz and Houston Rockets guard Tracy McGrady.
 
'I wasn't horrible, just a little crooked,' Couples said. 'He loosened me up and I'm heading back to practice and start playing. You want to talk about the Skins Games? I hope with two weeks of good practice, I won't embarrass myself. But I haven't play any golf.'
 
That he's even practicing is good news.
 
He went to Hawaii with his family in June, tried to hit balls and his back went out. He tried again in July, got excited about how he was playing, then went to Arizona to try to prepare for the PGA Championship.
 
'I went out in the heat of the day and lasted only a handful of holes,' he said.
 
There has been progress, however small. He played a corporate outing at The Olympic Club in August. He played a member-guest at Gozzer Ranch in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, five nine-hole matches over three days, and finished second behind Andrew Magee.
 
'This might be my last hurrah,' Couples said. 'If this doesn't work, I'll set it down and try to not worry about it.'
 
The LG Skins Game will be played over Thanksgiving weekend at the new Celebrity Course at Indian Wells, and Couples will be going up against defending champion Stephen Ames, Masters champion Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich.
 
This will be the 14th time Couples has played. He has won it five times. And this was almost the first year he turned down the offer, not comfortable with taking the invitation after playing so infrequently.
 
Now he's thrilled to be there, even if he has no clue what to expect.
 
'I'm sure I'll slap around a few good shots,' he said. 'I'm not going to hit fat shots and snap hooks. But I'm a little concerned about trying to hit the right shot. In the Skins Game, there are shots you have to hit it in there 4 feet to have a chance. I don't think I can pull that off. But if I can compete, I'll be OK with that.'
 
Related Links:
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    Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

    By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

    SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain shot a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

    Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

    Ciganda is attempting to win her third LPGA title and first since the 2016 season, when she won two tournaments in a one-month span. Kim is chasing her eighth career LPGA win and second title of the 2018 season.

    ''I want to win because I didn't win last year,'' Ciganda said. ''I love playing in Asia. It's good for long hitters, playing quite long, so I'm quite comfortable.''


    Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai


    Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

    Yin and Altomare have yet to break through for their first LPGA win. A win in Shanghai would make either player the ninth first-time winner of the 2018 season, which would tie 2016 for the third highest number of first-time winners in a season in LPGA history.

    ''I love competing,'' Yin said. ''That's why I'm playing, right? I'm excited to be in contention again going into Sunday.''

    Local favorite Yu Liu was seventh after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

    Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

    The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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    Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

    By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

    Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

    The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

    Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

    As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.


    Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

    CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


    "Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

    Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

    "We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

    Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

    "You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."

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    Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

    By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

    There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

    No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

    On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

    The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.


    Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

    CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


    "It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

    It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, considering his status a three-time major winner and an impending No. 1, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major; his only regular Tour win to date was his first, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

    "My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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    Koepka ahead by four, with No. 1 ranking in his grasp

    By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

    Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

    Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Piercy (-9), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

    What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One off the lead to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

    Round of the day: After contending last week at the CIMB, Shubankhar Sharma rebounded from opening rounds of 74 and 75 with a nine-birdie, 8-under 64 to move up 45 spots into a tie for 26th through 54 holes.

    Best of the rest: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

    Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

    Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.