By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Fred Couples knows what it's like to play on a losing team at the Presidents Cup. The only loss the United States has ever suffered, in fact.
"We got smoked," Couples recalled on Wednesday afternoon, remembering the 20 1/2-11 1/2 shellacking. "Jack (Nicklaus) was our captain. I'm sure he wasn't too thrilled with the way we played and the way we showed up. I don't think we were ready to play."
So when the Americans return to Royal Melbourne in Australia this November with Couples at the helm, he wants to make sure his team is prepared. Couples plans to strongly encourage the 12 members of his team to play the previous week -- just as he and International Captain Greg Norman are doing at the Australian Open, or Phil Mickelson will do in Singapore.
"They'll be playing the week before the The Presidents Cup," Couples said firmly. Even his two Captain's Picks, one of whom could be Tiger Woods, who currently ranks 20th in the U.S. standings. “If I pick two people and the other guy is there, he should be there (too).”
Woods is battling knee and Achilles problems in his left leg that forced him to withdraw from THE PLAYERS after nine holes and has put an appearance at the U.S. Open in question. Couples says he trusts Woods to let him know if he is ready to play.
"Well, there's one thing about Tiger, and I say this because I text him all the time ... if he's not ready to play, he'll be the one to tell me: don't waste your pick on me," Couples said. "... He will tell you he's struggled and now he's injured a little bit, so I don't even know how much he'll play, but he doesn't have to prove a lot to any captain, I don't think.
“You know, I'm no different than anybody; if I tell you today that if he just plays fairly well I'm going to pick him, I can't imagine that's the dumbest thing anyone has ever said. And if I sit here and say, if he continues to play like he is, in my mind he will be the guy to say, No reason to take me over there. He's not a difficult guy at all."
Couples, who played a practice round with Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Pat Perez on Wednesday, planned to meet with about two dozen prospective members of his team on Wednesday afternoon at Muirfield Village.
It's shaping up to be an interesting contingent, too, with five American players currently in the top 10 in the standings who have never played in a Presidents Cup. The top 10 after the BMW Championship automatically qualify.
"Webb Simpson is having a phenomenal year," Couples said. "Obviously Mark Wilson is hanging right in there. But then you've got the Strickers and the Furyks, Dustin Johnson, some guys that have been polished players, and I know Dustin Johnson never played a Presidents Cup, but they'll be fine.
“So the clash of the young and the old is definitely going to be there. Bubba Watson is leading the points list. For me personally there's a long way to go. Come maybe the end of July or the PGA, that's when stuff really starts to fluctuate pretty fast."
Couples didn't plan a pep talk for Wednesday evening's meeting. He knows the players are well aware of what's at stake come November in Australia.
"I'll go throw my face in front of the younger guys who have never played on the team or who have never been on a Presidents Cup team and just tell them I'm watching," Couples said. "I'm not going to be out here much, but I text them a lot and keep in touch and basically I'll get a few phone numbers, and when I leave here I probably won't see any of them for six or eight weeks maybe, and then I'll come out and play a tournament and say hi again.
"Once you get to this point, the team will change some, but barring crazy things, a couple guys will push off and then a couple guys will push on, and then it just works its way, even though we're only into early June, it'll work its way into itself,”
He started the final round with a birdie to briefly take the lead, but the rest of the round hasn't gone Pat Perez's way.
Perez just double-bogeyed the par-5 seventh hole after drilling his tee shot in the water. It's his first double bogey of the week, and it dropped him to 11 under, four back of Jonathan Byrd, who has opened up a four-shot lead.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Pat Perez has it all figured out.
“It’s going to take a number,” he said as he contemplated Sunday's final round of the Wells Fargo Championship. "It'll take a number for everybody tomorrow. ...
"Guys do it all the time. Guys come out and shoot 65, 66 on Sunday and they move way up the board.”
Perez will be looking for that number as he plays in the final group with Jonathan Byrd, who leads by one at 15 under. There are nine players within six strokes of the South Carolinian's lead and another five at 8 under.
And you have to look no further than a year ago when Rory McIlroy shot 62 to erase a four-stroke deficit to know that strange things can happen on Sunday at Quail Hollow. Just ask Vijay Singh, who made up a six-stroke deficit when he won in 2005.
"You never know, you get a guy in the morning that tees off and he's 7 under and he shoots 8 under tomorrow,” Perez said. "... You've got to keep your foot on the gas, and it's not going to be play for pars and stuff like that tomorrow. But I'm more than comfortable being one back."
Byrd is playing extremely well, though. He's one of three players -- Lucas Glover and Kevin Na are the others -- who has a chance to become the first player in the history of the tournament to post all four rounds in the 60s.
Byrd, who closed with a 31 and shot 67 Saturday, is also looking to become the third player on TOUR to win twice in 2011. In fact, he is trying to win for the third time in his last 12 starts dating back to last year's Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open -- a tournament he won in a playoff with a walk-off ace.
Byrd, who ranks 18th in the FedExCup, is a different player as he contemplates Sunday's final round, though. In Las Vegas last year, the former Clemson standout ranked 117th on the money list and he was just trying to keep his card.
The difference now? Byrd says it's confidence -- maybe some maturity, too. Not to mention, a steady putter from inside 10 feet.
"It's just kind of like I was searching to get my game going then before that win in Vegas, and now I'm just trying to just go play, knowing that everything is pretty good," Byrd explained. "I'm not resting on what I've done already, but it has made things easier just to go play golf and not work on things as much."
Glover, who is tied for third with Stewart Cink, three strokes behind his college teammate, knows Byrd is playing well.
"Somebody is going to have to get off to a good start," he said. "Jonathan is a great front runner. He's playing so well. I played with him Tuesday and saw him at home the last couple weeks. He's playing great.
"It's going to take a good start and a low round because he's playing well enough to where he could shoot in the 60s again tomorrow and blow everybody away. But we'll see. You know, I've got to get off to a good start and just take care of my stuff."
Pat Perez was so zoned in late Friday he wasn’t even sure how many holes he’d birdied coming in.
“I don't even know,” Perez said. “Seven birdies on the back? Is that right?”
Actually it was six, which included birdies on five of the last six holes.
“That's not what I had in mind when I stepped on the 13th tee, let me tell you that much,” Perez said. “That's not a comfortable stretch going through. There's not a comfortable stretch out there at all.”
The end result was a 7-under 65 that put Perez atop the leaderboard at 12 under and in position to go after his first -- and only -- win since 2009.
While it’s been mostly a down two years since that victory, Perez has played well of late after tearing apart his game from the inside out, working on his swing and changing from a cross-handed putting grip back to a conventional one.
“Once I see something that works right, I go with it,” Perez said. “I don't care what it is. It's just going to go because I know what I was doing before ain't going to work. So I had no problem taking it to the course. It's just been great.”
Now that was a finish: Five birdies over the final six holes. That’s what gave Pat Perez the lead at 12 under Friday at Quail Hollow, where he played his final 12 holes in 7 under with eight birdies and just one bogey.
The 65 is the best round of the year for Perez, who though coming off a missed cut last week finished in the top six in his two starts prior to that.
Perez’s last and only victory came at the 2009 Bob Hope Classic, but the way he’s playing this week his second could soon follow. He’s in the top 10 in fairways hit this week, the top 25 in greens in regulation and the top 15 in putting after just 25 putts on Friday.
The top three names on the leaderboard entering today’s final round have all of 62 combined starts on the PGA TOUR.
Charles Howell III and Pat Perez, both of whom are tied for fifth, have 83 combined top-10s.
In other words, it’s youth vs. experience at TPC San Antonio, where Brendan Steele leads at 7 under and Cameron Tringale and Kevin Chappell are one and two shots back, respectively.
The good news for that trio is that players in their 20s have won three of the last four events and four of the last six. The last player in his 30s to win? Rory Sabbatini at The Honda Classic.
Tringale (23) and Chappell (24) would be the youngest players to win on TOUR since Jason Day (22) won the HP Byron Nelson Championship last May.
And if rookies Chappell or Steele go on to victory it would mark the first time rookies have won back-to-back events on TOUR since 2002 when Jonathan Byrd won the Buick Challenge and Luke Donald won the Southern Farm Bureau Classic.
Brandt Snedeker, Pat Perez, Charles Howell III, Adam Scott, Charley Hoffman and Rich Beem have all won on the PGA TOUR. Brendan Steele, Cameron Tringale and Kevin Chappell haven’t.
That’s the separation at the top of the leaderboard at TPC San Antonio, where Steele is in front by one at 7 under after a 68 Saturday.
The biggest difference between the second and third rounds was the wind. Friday it blew, Saturday, for the most part, it didn’t. That allowed for some good scoring, though it’s still somewhat crowded with eight players within four shots of Steele’s lead.
That of course includes the defending champion Scott, who is on a run of three straight finishes in the top 6, which includes of course his tie for second at the Masters last week.
So what will happen on Sunday?
The wind is expected to blow in the 25-mph range. That could mean more high scores -- and an advantage to Scott, an Aussie who of course is used to playing in the wind. Stay tuned.