Couples relaxed, pain-free and playing his game

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August 20, 2011
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM correspondent

HARRISON, N.Y. -- In a perfect world, Fred Couples knew how his return to the Champions Tour would play out.

But golf is not a game of perfect -- didn't somebody say that? -- so Couples was left to contemplate other possibilities. Turns out, that was a waste of time because so far perfect describes what Couples is doing at the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship.

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Couples, the Champions Tour's 2010 Rookie of the Year playing only his sixth event in this injury-interrupted season, is looking for first victory of this year. He will start Sunday's final round at Westchester Country Club with a one-shot lead over John Cook and Peter Senior.

Couples shot 68 Saturday and is at 11-under-par 202. Cook (66), a three-time winner this year, and Senior (68) birdied the 18th hole and are at 10-under. All three are looking for their first major championship and all three have come close, each losing a major in a playoff, and all three have a chance to change that at the fifth and final major of the Champions Tour season.

"Any tournament is hard to win," Couples said. "John has had an incredible year. I've done nothing all year."

Senior has been pretty special, too, with three top six finishes in the majors this year.

Couples shut it down after the Memorial Tournament to seek out treatment for his back problems. He traveled to Germany for a therapeutic procedure not available in the United States. Six weeks ago, Couples was in Dusseldorf where he underwent six treatments in five days and this week he's been bouncing around Westchester like a teeny-bopper at a sock hop.

The treatment is known as Orthokine Therapy. It uses individual autologous proteins derived from a patient's blood as medication. Couples said it was a relatively simple procedure and he wouldn't hesitate to return to Germany for more treatment if it became necessary.

Couples is upbeat, smiling and, most important, enjoying golf again and playing it without pain or uncertainty. There's a bit of rust around the greens but that's only natural after a long layoff. There's nothing wrong with the swing. A great driver of the golf ball in his prime, Couples, 52, is driving it beautifully at Westchester. He has hit 24 of 28 fairways in the last two rounds and reached 33 of 36 greens in regulation.

"I drove it well," Couples said. "I expect to drive it well."

The Champions Tour flies cross-country for next week's Boeing Classic at the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge, outside of Seattle, Couples' hometown. It's the sixth major for Couples.

"To be honest, this is perfect," Couples said. "I was hoping to start feeling better, and I did. I was shooting to be pretty much on my game by Seattle. It's a big deal for me, obviously."

Couples returned to the Champions Tour three weeks at the 3M Championship at TPC Twin Cities near Minneapolis. He finished tied for 26th.

"l wanted to get some rounds in," Couples said. "Minnesota was very good for that, good driving course. To be in contention is good for me to kind of get the feeling to have to hit a good shot here, make a good putt there, or get it up-and-down. I'm in good spirits about the way I'm playing and feeling."

The Couples approach is well-documented. The demeanor is loose, the manner easy. On the surface, there's not much grinding going on. Inside, there's turbulence, most of it ebbing and flowing based on the level of his health. When his back is fit, Couples is hardy.

"Not much in the mental part really worries me," he said. "Physically, it's hard to figure out how long I'm going to last. If I get a club in my hand and I can practice a little bit I feel like I'm comfortable enough I can go out and play golf and look pretty good at what I'm doing."

A year ago, Couples finished runner-up to Bernhard Langer in the U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Washington. He had targeted the event from the beginning of his rookie year on the Champions Tour because of the hometown factor.

"The biggest disappointment I've had out here is not winning in Seattle," Couples said.

A chance at redemption comes next week at Snoqualmie Ridge, and Couples wants it desperately. That's what makes his performance this week so encouraging to him.

"I play to win," Couples said. "Second is irrelevant and I don't mean that as a bad comment. I have a chance to win and I'll give it a great shot."

Cook has no doubt about that.

"This course is really right up his alley," Cook said.

Couples was uncertain about what might happen when he returned to competitive golf. So far, so good. No, make that so far, very good.

"The way I was looking after that time off, I'm happy just to play," Couples said. "I find myself playing well on a course I like. I think I'm in good shape."

Both his game and his back.

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