Couples able to focus on golf, earns trip to Sawgrass

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August 21, 2011
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM correspondent

HARRISON, N.Y. -- Fred Couples just plays golf. He doesn't spend much time figuring out what goes where in the bigger picture. He hits shots, finds the ball and hits it again. It's kind of how he does most things. He just lets them happen.

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Couples didn't realize that by winning the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship Sunday -- his first major victory on the Champions Tour -- he gets a little bonus: A spot in next year's PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

"You might have thrown me for a loop with that one," Couples confessed. "I'll go. Yeah. That'll be very exciting. I did not know the winner got to go. That's great. I get to play with the studs, or try to. So that will be fun."

Couples' victory over John Cook on the third hole of sudden-death playoff at Westchester Country Club put him in an elite group. He joins Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd as the only golfers to win both THE PLAYERS and the Senior Players. And now Couples goes back to Pete Dye's Stadium Course with a chance to win it for a third time.

On a blustery day that included a rain/lightning delay of nearly two hours, Couples had an opportunity to test his recovering back. Ordinarily, stops and starts aren't what the doctors order for patients with bad backs -- or the guys on the Champions Tour.

"I don't think any of us need a rain delay," said Couples, who went back to the golf course and, admittedly, didn't play his best golf until crunch time.

Then, he showed no signs of a bad back, just a sore hip he blamed on the wind, an air-conditioned locker room and the rush to return to the course for the final 11 holes.

"I'm pretty sure just the way I cooled down," he said. "It was awfully cold in the locker room ... I wouldn't say I was playing awesome golf before the rain delay but it wasn't bad."

The problem wasn't the back on which he had treatment six weeks ago in Germany. It was an aching left hip. But when the battle heated up, Couples warmed to the task and played solidly down the stretch, shrugging off the new hip ailment. He shot 71 for an 11-under-par 273 total. Cook shot 70 to wipe out Couples' 1-stroke 54-hole lead. Australian Peter Senior shot 71 and missed the playoff by a shot.

"I was swinging as hard as I could on every one of those last few holes," Couples said. "I have some strength, which is nice. I was grinding it out. But I didn't feel horrible. I just was not loose and not prepared to hit some of those shots."

Couples' best shots down the stretch were a 15-foot putt that saved at the 230-yard par-3 16th hole, where Couples made an awkward swing and missed the green, only to make his par and gain a shot on Cook, who made bogey there after also missing the green

Couples and Cook parred the 18th hole, playing into stiff headwinds, twice each in the playoff. The second time around, Couples reached the green against all odds on the 532-yard par 5 with driver/3-wood only to three-putt.

At the 374-yard par 4 17th, Couples drove into the right rough. The ball found a decent lie and the rough was actually a good break because he didn't have to worry about spinning his approach from 76 yards off the false front as so many players did Sunday. Couples' shot hopped once and rolled forward, finishing three feet from the hole. After Cook two-putted for par from 25 feet, Couples holed out for the 21st time in the round and 75th time over four days, proving that his back was, indeed, up for a challenging test.

Yes, Couples said his rapid rate of improvement after the treatments in Germany six weeks ago was a positive development he probably didn't expect. In Dusseldorf he was treated with Orthokine Therapy, which uses the proteins derived from the patient's blood as medication. Couples called it a relatively simple procedure and said he wouldn't hesitate to return to Germany for more treatment if it became necessary.

"Winning this quick? No," Couples said. "Because I didn't play any golf in those 2 1/2 months. But this is a course that I can handle and I survived. It was a little edgy out there, I'm not going to lie to you. And with the wind blowing I thought, 'Oh, my God, could it just be a little easier?'

"But I hit enough good shots, I guess."

It was a good week for Couples. A very good week. His back feels good and so does his golf game, even with a few blemishes attached to it.

"I just found out that I'm going to THE PLAYERS Championship," he said. "That's a boost. It's a major. I feel great about winning my first senior major. I just hope tomorrow when I wake up I feel better than I do now and that's the emotional part of it because I've been doing so well. It was a challenging day and it was a fun day, and to win, it's a good feeling."

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