Couples back at Westchester with a much-improved back

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Fred Couples has never won at Westchester but he likes his chances this week.
August 17, 2011
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM correspondent

HARRISON, N.Y. -- Fred Couples is back at Westchester Country Club for this week's Constellation Energy Senior PLAYERS Championship and that's a positive on two fronts.

It means Couples' back is feeling better these days, always a good thing. And it means he's playing one of his favorite courses. Couples' sentiments are shared by every play in the field. One by one, they tell favorite stories about Westchester and all the times they've played here.


"I'm echoing what you've heard everybody else say but it's great to be back here," Tom Lehman said. "I have to believe it's one of the top courses on everybody's schedule and always has been. A great test, a fun course ... such a great place to play a golf tournament."

Couples acknowledged Wednesday on the eve of the fifth and final Champions Tour major championship of 2011 that Westchester is "one of my favorite tour stops.

"I never won here but played well a lot of times," he said.

Couples is hoping the combination of an improved back and a soothing comfort level with Westchester will pay dividends in only his sixth Champions Tour event this year, and the third since the first week of May at the Regions Tradition. Unwilling to endure more pain, he shut it down after missing the cut at the Memorial Tournament. Six weeks ago he flew to Dusseldorf, Germany, for a non-traditional treatment on his back.

"It's a bloodwork procedure, stuff they don't do in America," said Couples, who marked his return two weeks ago at the 3M Championship and finished T26.

Couples said "quite a few people have gone there," most notably athletes, among them professional golfers. He had six treatments in five days and said he instantly felt better.

"I'm getting a little stiffer but the pain is gone," Couples said.

It didn't take long for the topic to switch to something else Couples will be paying a lot of attention to in the coming weeks. For the second time, Couples will captain the Presidents Cup team for the Nov. 17-20 match in Australia against Greg Norman's International side. Couples' USA team won handily (19 ½ - 14 ½) two years ago at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco with a fellow named Tiger Woods posting a 5-0 record in the competition.

That same fellow, Woods, is No. 28 on the Presidents Cup points list with no tournaments left on his playing schedule, except for the Australian Open the week before the Presidents Cup. Couples is mapping the rest of his own playing schedule and he knows that at every stop he'll be asked about Woods and the Presidents Cup.

The captain doesn't shy away from the discussion. He knows there's the potential for volatility in the bottom half of the top 10 and Couples must add Captain's Picks in late September.

"When (Woods) went to Bridgestone, we texted," Couples said. "We've texted for a year. I said, 'Play well. I'll be watching.' He said, 'I want to be on the team.' I said, 'You'll be on the team."

Is that a promise Couples intends to keep? Best bet, yes it is. But the captain did leave a wee bit of wiggle room because he knows a couple of America's young guns, new PGA champion Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler, aren't in the top 10. Fowler is No. 11, Bradley has soared to No. 18 in his rookie season.

"There's a decision to be made," Couples said. "I really want (Woods) on the team based on, in my opinion, that he's been the best player 10 straight years. (But) he needs to play a little bit. He can't just show up the week before in Australia. I think he's way up on the list to be chosen to play."

Couples pointed to Woods' record at the 2009 Presidents Cup and his partnership with Steve Stricker -- they were 4-0 -- and his role as a backroom influence.

"For me to sit here and say I wouldn't choose (Woods) would be crazy," Couples said. "I just think he's great to have on the team. It would be a great boost for him and I don't think he would hurt the team. If anything, he would help the team. He may call up and say, 'I'm not ready.' But I doubt that."

"Keegan Bradley, I firmly believe the way he's playing, he'll make his way on the team. For him the safest way to get on the team (is to play his way on). Would I look like an idiot if Keegan finished 12th and Tiger played only six events and I picked Tiger? No."

Two years ago, Norman selected as a member of his team an off-form player, Adam Scott. The Australian responded by playing splendid golf and justifying the captain's faith in him. Asked if he sees a parallel in the Woods situation, Couples nodded.

"Dead-on," Couples said. "Except Adam was struggling a little bit, Tiger Woods is struggling a little bit. Tiger has been the best player, not just a great player, the best player forever. He's very excited to play. I can't make a mistake. Pick any of these guys."

Couples' selections in 2009 were Lucas Glover and Hunter Mahan.