Couples turns back clock at Riviera - COPIED

By Doug FergusonFebruary 19, 2011, 9:26 pm

Northern Trust Open

LOS ANGELES – Despite a bad back that hurts when he stoops over a short iron, Fred Couples navigated around his favorite tour course without a bogey Friday for a 5-under 66 that gave him the early lead in the Northern Trust Open.

It helped that he knocked in an eagle putt of nearly 100 feet on his opening hole, along with a pair of 30-foot birdie putts. But even for a 51-year-old well past his prime, he was carried along by a languid swing and his love for Riviera.

“I feel like I can play this course blindfolded,” Couples said.

Some of his peers couldn’t believe what they saw.

“He played like he was my age,” said 25-year-old Anthony Kim, who was paired with Couples and was nine shots behind. “He was loose, swinging hard. He hit some quality shots, some aggressive shots. It doesn’t hurt that he’s won here a couple of times. He just knows what he’s doing out here.”

Couples first played Riviera three years before Kim was born. He won in 1990 and 1992, back when his hair was brown, not mostly gray, and when he didn’t have to get up at 4 a.m. to stretch out his back so he could make it to the first tee.

The affection from the gallery hasn’t changed.

From the other side of the par-5 first green, Couples rapped a putt and watched it roll some 100 feet toward the cup and drop for an eagle. The cheer was loud enough for players still on the practice range to look up.

One player jokingly said, “Couples just made a 10-footer for par.”

Paul Casey, who had a 67 and was four shots back, played in the group behind Couples. Asked how it felt to trail a 51-year-old who can barely bend over to tie his shoes, Casey started laughing.

“Every time I looked ahead, he’s stretching his back, his hand is on his hip,” Casey said. “We all know Freddie. He looks like he doesn’t care. He looks like he’s in pain. He could be on any score. And the fact he’s on 8 under is brilliant.”

Couples was at 8-under 134 heading into what could be a soggy weekend. The rain began to fall late in the afternoon as half of the field was trying to cope with tougher conditions.

J.B. Holmes was tied for the lead until a double bogey on the last hole gave him a 69.

Phil Mickelson struggled with his irons on his way to a 70 that put him seven shots behind, although not terribly worried.

“I’m not pleased being in the position where I’m at, but it could be a lot worse,” Mickelson said. “And I should be within striking distance if I can go out and shoot some hot round tomorrow.”

That he would be trying to catch up to Couples was surprising given his age and his health. Casey, however, said course knowledge and good vibes only go so far.

“I don’t care how well he knows this course, and he probably knows it as well as the members,” Casey said. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t hit the golf ball where you need to.”

Such is his affection for Riviera that Couples didn’t think twice about playing this week – even though he is the defending champion at the Champions Tour event in Naples, Fla.

“I don’t think anyone is mad. Besides Augusta, it’s my favorite spot,” Couples said. “I don’t think it’s a slap in the face if they just look where I live and my schedule and how I play here. It would take two seconds to figure it out.”

Couples not only has two wins at Riviera, he has four top 10s in the last decade and nearly had a chance to win two years ago until he butchered a 9-iron into the 18th with a chance to put pressure on Mickelson.

He was 49, and that figured to be his last chance to win on tour.

Yet here is again, twisting and stretching, taking left-handed baseball swings with his putter while trying to keep loose. The hardest part for Couples after his round was climbing the 100-foot hill toward the clubhouse to sign his card.

When the tour asked him to visit The Golf Channel’s booth, Couples said, “Can’t do it.”

“I’m ready for a nap,” he said.

He was up at 4 a.m. to stretch and get treatment on what he called a “back machine.” It was still dark when he got to the practice range, and he kept to his routine in which he only hits long clubs – the driver, 5-wood and hybrids – because to bend over a short iron hurts. He’d rather wait until the shot counts to do that.

“I don’t consider this warming up,” Couples said. “I just think it’s waiting for my tee time to come.”

And he came out swinging, with the long eagle putt on No. 1, a 35-foot birdie putt on the ninth, a 30-footer on the 15th and a series of scary putts in the 5-foot range for pars. He has gone 32 holes without a bogey at Riviera.

For two rounds, he looks as young as ever. But that only goes so far.

He went to see “The Social Network,” but only because it starred Justin Timberlake. Couples still doesn’t know what Facebook is all about. Remember, it was only two years ago that he started sending text messages (he received one after his round from Tiger Woods).

As for Twitter? Uh, no.

“If I did Twitter, would I tell people that I’m heading home and then going to eat at California Pizza Kitchen? Is that what you do? Or do you actually tweet information?” he said. “Well, what information do I have for my 500,000 followers? I’m 51. I live in the desert. They all know that already.

“If you guys write well enough, they’ll know that I’m in good shape going into tomorrow. I don’t need to tweet anybody.”

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After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the Nelson's future ...

If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray


On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta


On golf and gambling ...

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Web.com Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.