Couples out to win Toshiba, on the way to Augusta

Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Fred Couples is two shots off the lead going into the final round at the Toshiba Classic.
March 17, 2012
John Reger, Special to PGATOUR.COM

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- While most of the entrants into April's Masters are fine-tuning their game around the world, Fred Couples is taking advantage of the Champions Tour to prepare for Augusta National.


While his chances to win on the TOUR are self-admittedly slim, Couples knows he can compete every week on the Champions Tour.

He is in a position to win the Toshiba Classic for the second time in three years and for the seventh time overall on the Champions Tour, and said playing to win is good preparation for the first major championship of the year.

"My goal is to be prepared for Augusta," Couples said. "At the moment, I'm far from that. It will be good to play under a little bit of pressure, a lot of pressure to try to win, then I get two more weeks to win."

Couples will always be only as good as his fickle back, which has bothered him for years. He hurt it again in December and was unable to start his season when he would have liked.

"I was laid up for 10 days, 12 days," Couples said. "That's right when I had just started to practice."

The first event of the year was Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, where he finished 11th. The only other event he has played this year was the Northern Trust Open on the PGA TOUR, where he shot 70-76 and missed the cut.

Through two rounds at Toshiba, Couples has been fairly consistent. He opened with a 4-under 67 and was wild off the tee, hitting six of 14 fairways. In the second round, he was 11 of 14.

"I did get a round in yesterday and I had a late flurry, and (Saturday) I felt like I hit the ball a little bit better," Couples said. "I certainly don't have it like on cruise control, where I go out there and hit where I am looking on every shot."

Though he is two strokes behind Mark Calcavecchia, Couples has the advantage, winning this event in 2010.

Regardless of what he does at Toshiba, Couples has a plan to play four straight weeks. After Toshiba he will enter the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic, then play on the PGA TOUR at the Shell Houston Open and then go to Augusta National for the Masters.

"It's a little of a pipe dream for me to play four weeks in a row," Couples said. "This is a rough day. (Sunday) is going to be a rough day. I've never been to Mississippi. I don't know what the course is like. I hope the weather is going to be decent. If not, you know, this all could backfire."

So as long as the back holds up, Couples will be ready for Augusta. It is a tournament he still believes he can win if the conditions are right.

"I only have a short window to play well there for a couple of more years," Couples said. "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. That's my goal. My goal is to be prepared for Augusta. At the moment, I'm far from that."

Sunday may change that.