Joe LaCava, who has caddied for Fred Couples (center) and now totes the bag of Tiger Woods (right), keeps pace at Muirfield Village. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- And to think Fred Couples was worried about the way he might play Thursday during the first round of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.
Couples was so worried, in fact, that he texted one of his playing partners, Tiger Woods, and asked him if he really wanted him in the group. After all, Couples' last two Champions Tour performances had been forgettable, he hadn't played in three weeks and he certainly didn't want to hold the world No. 1 back.
"(I) said do you really want me in this group, I've played no golf," Couples recalled. "You're nervous playing with him. But I was more nervous, because I've not played since Savannah (in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf) ... and I didn't play well there."
So what did Couples do? He went out and beat Woods 70 to 71 and tied the third member of the group, Keegan Bradley, another prospective member of Couples' U.S. Presidents Cup team whom the captain called "truly long."
Not bad for a 53-year-old, huh?
"Kicked my (butt)," Woods said with a big grin.
Couples said he didn't hit any "horrific" shots on Thursday, and he wielded a hot putter with just 25 for the day. He played his first seven holes in 3 under, then gave those shots back with a double bogey-bogey finish to the front nine before adding two birdies on the back.
"It played really, really fast," Couples said. "So there were a lot of 3-woods off the tees, which I think helped me. Those guys hit it so far that it makes it entertaining."
Couples says his goal when he plays with Woods is simply to "hit it solid and stay out of his way." So in that regard, Thursday's round, Couples says, "was a good one." He says he feels "blessed" when the opportunity to play with Woods arises, and he knows there is a finite competitive window there.
"I can shoot free throws with Michael Jordan who is a friend, but I can't do anything else with him," Couples said. "I can play golf with him. That's not the same. And in golf he's the best player, and I play on the Champions Tour so I rarely get to see him. Around Augusta I always try to hit balls next to him. ... I used to practice with Davis Love, but Tiger is Tiger."
Off the course, Couples has had a whirlwind schedule this week. He flew to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday with Nick Price, who win captain the International Team at the Presidents Cup in the fall. There the two met with President Barack Obama, who will serve as honorary chairman of the biennial matches, in the Oval Office.
"Anytime you can go to President Obama's, it's pretty special," Couples said.
His schedule was so busy, in fact, that Couples, who is playing in the Memorial Tournament, which he won in 1998, for the 22nd time, didn't play a practice round at Muirfield Village this week. His caddie walked the course to get a sense of how it was playing, and the boss hit balls in earnest when he got back from D.C.
"I was not expecting 70," Couples said. "I'm not going to lie to anyone. But I'm thrilled."
As soon as his post-round interview was over, Couples was looking for his sportcoat because he was due to attend a dinner with members at Muirfield Village to promote the Presidents Cup which will be played here Oct. 3-6. All in all, Couples has already had a great week -- and Thursday was icing on the cake.
"I got to meet the President yesterday," Couples said. "I'm sitting down doing an interview with Jack today and I played with Tiger. Hard to top that. What's next?"