Old man Couples playing like a youngster

By Associated PressApril 11, 2010, 3:33 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Fred Couples twisted one way, then the other, wincing as he tried to loosen up his aching back. It’s moments like this that make the 50-year-old feel twice his age.

Get him to the Masters, however, and he plays like he’s half his age.

Four years after playing in the final group, Couples is lurking again at Augusta National. His 4-under 68 on Saturday puts him five strokes behind leader Lee Westwood and four behind Phil Mickelson – pretty good for a guy more accustomed to tearing up the Champions Tour these days.

“I know time flies, but (Sunday) I have a shot,” Couples said. “I’m way behind, but I’ve heard other people talk about it, so I might as well say the same thing. If I can shoot a low score, I maybe can post a score and see what happens.”

A few more shots like he had on 14 and 15 would help.

He put his approach shot to about 3 feet on 14 and tapped in for a birdie. As he left the 14th tee, Couples motioned to Mickelson, playing in the group behind him, to get it going. Did Lefty ever, holing out from the 14th fairway for an eagle.

“I wanted that golf ball that he holed in at 14. That’s what I wanted,” Couples said. “He couldn’t hear me, but I wanted that eagle ball.”

Instead, he got one of his own.

He flew the green with his second shot on the par-5 15th, leaving him at least 30 feet to the hole. He made a perfect chip and the ball rolled straight at the hole, the noise level rising the closer the ball got to the cup. When it rolled in, the crowd roared and Couples shook his fist.

Fans in all three grandstands around 15 gave him a standing ovation, and Couples took off his hat and waved.

“I just love this place,” he said. “I have a shot (Sunday) if I can shoot a crazy score.”

And wouldn’t that be something for the senior set?

Kenny Perry was two holes away from breaking Nicklaus’ record as the oldest winner at Augusta National last year. Tom Watson gave fans of all ages a real treat at the British Open at Turnberry, leading much of the tournament before faltering down the stretch.

“I picked (Couples) and Westwood this week,” Watson said. “I like the way Couples is playing.”

Augusta really does have a way of bringing out Couples’ best – no matter what his age. He won here in 1992, of course, and has nine other top 10 finishes, including a tie for third in 2006. That was the 20th anniversary of Nicklaus’ back-nine charge to a sixth green jacket, and while “Boom Boom” isn’t the Bear, fans were thrilled to see Couples make a run of his own, playing with Mickelson in the final group.

The story line petered out on the back nine, though. Two years later, Couples missed the cut at Augusta National, ending the record streak he shares with Gary Player at 23 consecutive cuts made.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I missed the cut the last two years and I went away pretty frustrated because I played pretty well,” Couples said.

He arrived at Augusta National this year playing some of his best golf in years. He’d won his last three starts on the Champions Tour, and a 66 on Thursday showed he could hang with the youngsters, too. It made him the oldest player to hold the outright lead after the opening round of this tournament.

But he slid out of contention – or so it seemed – because of his creaky back and poor putting Friday. He three-putted for bogeys on 16 and 17, and misclubbed on 18 to stumble to a 75.

“I know I can play the course. I can putt the greens … but I have not made really any putts this week,” he said. “I know that sounds really stupid, but I’ve hit the ball very well.”

When Nicklaus won in 1986, he shot a 30 on the back nine. Couples doesn’t think he has to match that. But with Westwood, Mickelson and that guy named Tiger Woods all in front of him, he knows he’ll have to go low to have any hope of catching them.

“They’re not going to shoot much over par. I need 65 or 66 to get in,” Couples said. “It would be a miracle, but we’ll see.'

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.