Still Got Game

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2011, 8:51 am

Northern Trust Open

LOS ANGELES – Fred Couples has more gray hair now.

More aches and pains, too.

His distinctive saunter down the fairways is still cool, but he reminds you what time’s doing to his gait the way he uses that long putter like a walking stick as he approaches the greens.

He reminds you the wear and tear the years have brought his body the way he’s always trying to keep that rickety back loose, the way he hoisted his leg up onto the top of his golf bag to stretch at the seventh tee, the way he’s always pulling a knee up to his chest to loosen up his lower back, the way he'll bend over, hands on knees, through his round.

Yes, Couples, 51, is showing his age at the Northern Trust Open, but only between shots.

When he was over the ball in Thursday’s first round, you could swear he was 30 years old again. His swing still mesmerizes. It’s still as powerful as it is effortless. He’s still got one of the sweetest moves in the game. He showed that time and time again with giant drives in his run onto the leaderboard.

Freddie Couples
Fred Couples looks for his third victory at Riviera in 30 years (Getty Images).

Couples loves Riviera Country Club, and it’s loving him back.

With a 3-under-par 68, Couples is one shot off the lead in the suspended first round. His ball striking was so crisp, he could have fared even better. He missed short birdie chances at his 15th and 16th holes.

Couples was paired with Anthony Kim and Bubba Watson, and he made them look like the old men in the group.

Watson shot 76 and then withdrew, citing a pulled or strained oblique muscle. Kim shot 73. They were spraying shots all over the course while Couples gave a clinic on how to attack Rivera in a tournament he’s won twice (1990, ’92).

“I know this course so well,” Couples said.

So well that a rickety back might not stop him from making a run at winning here for a third time.

“I can swing a club, I just can’t sleep,” Couples said of his chronic back trouble. “It’s like the biggest toothache ever, all day long. I’ve had enough, to be quite honest. So I’m going to see if I can do a couple things to take the pain away.”

Couples piqued the interest of media with that strong statement and others like it. He says he has some special treatment lined up beginning Monday, but he refused to elaborate when prodded.

“There’s a couple things that may happen,” Couples said. “It’s pretty drastic.”

Surgery, however, doesn’t sound like one of the options.

“I would say it’s non-evasive,” Couples said.

Whatever Couples has planned, he says it shouldn’t stop him from playing in the Masters in April.

“It’ll be fun for me to do,” Couples said. “It’ll be different. I’m not even going to tell you because I’d have to take a drug test after I do it.”

Couples found a short-term remedy for what’s ailing his back at Riviera. Birdies. He made five of them against two bogeys.

“This is my 30th year I’ve played this tournament,” Couples said.

Couples tied for third here just two years ago. He was fourth at Riviera four years ago. In a five-year run here in the ‘90s, he won twice and finished second twice.

There’s lots of love for “Freddie” at Riviera, with the galleries rooting him at every turn. The fans can’t get close enough to him. After he hit a shot out of the trees at the eighth hole, a woman rushed out and laid a hand on his back. It seemed to spook Couples a little, but not for long. After hitting the shot to 4 feet, he holed the putt for his final birdie.

Couples looked like he was enjoying a chance to show the younger Watson and Kim that he’s still got game.

“It was fun to play with those guys,” he said.

Couples will be looking to extend the fun deep into the weekend, or as long as his rickety back holds up.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."