Hype Not About His Golf

By Associated PressMarch 6, 2008, 5:00 pm
2007 PODS ChampionshipTAMPA BAY, Fla. -- Fred Couples has been getting a lot of attention the last few weeks without hitting a shot.
Players celebrate with him as though he has just won a tournament. His cell phone is loaded with voice mails and text messages, and perhaps the biggest shock of all is that Couples knows how to use his phone. Remember, this is the guy who once said he doesnt answer the phone because someone may be on the other end.
Why all the fuss?
Couples last week was appointed U.S. captain of the Presidents Cup, with Greg Norman leading the International side. Never mind that the matches are still 20 months away.
Lost amid this hoopla is that Couples is playing golf, a lot more than some expected he could, himself included.
A year ago, a back problem that has been pestering him since 1994 took such a nasty turn that Couples labored to play in the Masters (and tied a record by making his 23rd consecutive cut), then didnt compete again until the silly season.
He contemplated surgery. He feared his career might be over.
But when he tees it up Thursday in the PODS Championship, it will be his fifth tournament this season, and the results have been promising. He has made the cut in all but one, has 12 out of 15 rounds at par or better and recorded one top 10.
I feel good, Couples said. I played the four (tournaments), and then I went to see this guy in Waco. He said I looked better than he thought. Obviously, my goal is to play. The best I probably played was at Phoenix, and I missed the cut. And the other tournaments, I did pretty well. So I feel like Im on track, and my goal is to really be ready for Augusta.
The guy in Waco is John Patterson, a Texas back specialist whose clientele includes Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz and Houston Rockets guard Tracy McGrady.
Couples felt strong enough to spend three days with swing coach Butch Harmon in Las Vegas, and he played the Pro-Member tournament at fabled Seminole Golf Club on Monday.
He has not been to Innisbrook since 2000, when he tied for 14th, although he recalled one year having to withdraw on the fourth hole of the pro-am because his back went out. He likes the course, as most do.
The Copperhead Course is regarded as one of the strongest tests on the Florida swing, without having to change to a par 71. Mark Calcavecchia is the defending champion, after barely making the cut, shooting 62 in the third round and winning by one shot.
Honda Classic winner Ernie Els is playing, along with Steve Stricker, Justin Rose and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
Els was getting plenty of attention, too, although this was for winning last week on the PGA TOUR to end an 0-for-47 drought that dates to the American Express Championship in Ireland in October 2004.
When youre around long enough like me, you know youre going to have losses, Els said. Losses are tough. You play to win every week. When you get close, you expect to win. I had many, many times I couldnt close the deal. So its really nice to get this one, and hopefully, this is a fresh start for the next couple of years.
Also in the field is another captain'Ryder Cup skipper Paul Azinger'who is playing far less than Couples this year.
Ive played four rounds of golf since Phoenix, Azinger said. I havent really practiced much. I dont know why. My desire to play well is still there, but my commitment to get it done isnt. Im ready to start drinking out of a bamboo cup with a pink umbrella on it.
Azinger is trying to get out to look at some players who might be on his side at the Ryder Cup in September.
Couples can appreciate that. He is enthusiastic about trying to play 18 times this year and next, being able to see the players in the locker room, the range and on the course. And he cares about his own game, especially with the Masters on the horizon.
Couples won in 1992, a victory famous because his ball was held up by a few blades of grass as it rolled toward the water on the par-3 12th hole in the final round. Even as the course has been lengthened and strengthened, Couples has been up for it.
Despite rounds of 76-76, he made the cut on the number last year at the Masters. That tied Gary Player (1959-82) for consecutive cuts, and Couples remains the only Masters champion to have never missed the cut (Tiger Woods missed as an amateur). He could go in the record books with another four rounds in April, but thats not on his mind.
If the leaders are up here and the cuts are down here, I want to make sure Im moving way up the ladder, Couples said. If I dont, it will be very disappointing because Im not there to play well. If I dont play well and miss the cut, the streak is over, and Ill be watching TV Saturday and Sunday. But its a nice thing. Its not anything worldly.
Im not going to go down as the guy who made however many cuts in a row it is. Im planning on playing well.
That hes playing is a start.
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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”