Roberts, Couples successful, yet still searching for more

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Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Loren Roberts got his 13th win on the Champions Tour last week at the Toshiba Classic.
March 21, 2012
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM correspondent

In golf, the quest for perfection is eternal.

Loren Roberts is a magician with the putter. His reputation as Boss of the Moss is well deserved.

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But even Roberts had to take a step back recently and seek a solution to the putting woes he was experiencing in 2011.

The search by Roberts produced dramatic results when he won the Toshiba Classic last week to end a lengthy drought. It was his 13th victory on the Champions Tour and first since the Dick's Sporting Goods Open in 2010.

Fred Couples is one of the best and longest drivers of the golf ball in the history of the game. It is his stock-in-trade.

What is Couples looking for these days? More distance off the tee, naturally.

This week's Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at Fallen Oak in Biloxi is the next stop for Roberts and Couples.

"I've got some things to work on in my golf swing," Roberts said. "We all do. We are never happy with how we play."

That was especially the case for Roberts in 2011. The winless season ended a stretch of six straight years with at least one Champions Tour title. Much of it was due to injuries -- shoulder and upper-back issues forced him out of action for a month and he was unable to defend his title at Dick's.

"My whole game is putting," Roberts said. "I was struggling with the putter last year, to be honest with you."

So a week before the Toshiba Classic, Roberts assigned himself to a session in study hall. He pulled out the old films of his good stretches of putting.

"I saw that my shaft position at impact, before when I was putting good, I had a little bit more shaft lean," he said. "And now, my shaft at impact was straight up and down, almost a little bit leaning back which has been causing me to hook my putts a little bit and lift them off the surface.

"I had to get my hands a little bit more ahead of the ball at impact, just a little shaft lean at the bottom because you want to hit down through it, and I really rolled some putts (in the Toshiba Classic) ... They went right where I was looking and that won the tournament for me."

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One of Roberts' best stretches came in 1994 when he finished 72 holes at the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh tied with Colin Montgomerie and Ernie Els, who eventually won the playoff. In Saturday's third round at Oakmont, Roberts shot 64.

"I holed every putt I look at," Roberts recalled a few years ago. "I was in the locker room doing an interview when a friend of mine walked by. He just yelled out, 'The Boss of the Moss.' It stuck. I'm lucky. It's a good nickname because you can really get some bad ones out here."

Couples' nickname isn't too bad, either. He was born to be "Boom Boom."

In the strong southern California winds, Couples had control of his golf ball and put himself into contention at the Toshiba Classic before a late swoon with the putter.

"I felt like I hit the ball better," Couples said. "I have not played much, and I haven't played really, really well. I certainly don't have it on cruise control."

After this week's Champions Tour event in Biloxi, Couples will play next week at the PGA TOUR's Shell Houston Open. It's his final warm-up for the Masters, April 5-8. Couples loves Augusta National Golf Club, where he won his major in 1992. He loves the Masters and everything about it, and his outstanding performances there over many years confirm his sentiments.

Couples will return to Augusta National for the 28th time. He has made the cut 25 of 27 times, posting 11 top 10 finishes in the process. A year ago, Couples tied for 15th in the Masters and he was sixth in 2010 when he shared the first-round lead with 66.

"My goal is to be prepared for Augusta," Couples said. "I played so little since the Presidents Cup that I'm pretty rusty. But my real goal is to be playing well at Augusta.

"I only have a short window to play well there for a couple of more years. I don't know if I could win, if everything went right. But I have to start driving a lot longer. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to draw the ball a little more and start to get more clubhead speed."

Couples, who has captained the United States to victory in the last two Presidents Cups, wants to play more and work on his game but his chronically bad back often makes that problematic. It's always a fine line for him to know how much to play and when to stop.

"The only real hindrance is if I feel really, really good, I want to play," Couples said. "At the end of last year, after going to Germany (for treatment), I did play a lot of golf and it was kind of fun."

It was upon his return that Couples captured his first Champions Tour major at the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship.

Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR. He can be reached at golfstix@aol.com.

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