Couples seeks breakthrough
The Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. — Fred Couples feels like he’s overdue for a win.
He’s played seven events on the Champions Tour this year, has been in the top five in six of them and comes into the U.S. Senior Open today off three straight runner-up finishes.
“I would like to win something,” he said Wednesday, adding that he even came in second in a member-guest tournament in California last month.
Couples’ most recent victory was just under a year ago at the 2012 Senior British Open. He looked ready to win two weeks ago in the Senior Players Championship, but a back-nine collapse left him tied for second behind Kenny Perry.
Couples said his bothersome back is feeling fine, so if the man nicknamed “Boom Boom” for his prodigious drives can find the fairway at Omaha Country Club, no one would be surprised if this is the week he breaks through.
“Fred still hits the ball a tremendous distance,” Bernhard Langer said. “He hasn’t lost any distance, maybe gained some with the equipment and all that. He’s capable of producing very low scores. Wherever he tees up, he’s one of the main favorites, no doubt about it.”
Couples, Perry, Langer, Tom Watson and David Frost are among the top contenders at the 6,700-yard, par-70 Omaha Country Club.
The fourth of the five senior majors will be a test of stamina for the 50-and-over golfers, especially with weekend highs forecast in the low 90s with high humidity. The course is hilly, featuring elevation and topographical changes that belie the popular image of the central plains.
“Nebraska, you’d think flat and hot,” Perry said. “I got the hot part right, but it’s the hilliest golf course I’ve ever been on.”
Drives in the fairway will be at a premium with the rough cut high and the greens small and sloped. The 312-yard 13th hole is drivable, but the course features the second-longest par-3 in U.S. Senior Open history in the 230-yard third hole and the third-longest par-4 in the 494-yard 10th.
The 53-year-old Couples’ scaled-back schedule begins to ramp up now. After the U.S. Senior Open, he plays the British Open at Muirfield and Senior British Open at Royal Birkdale in consecutive weeks — “which might be a little much,” he said.
For a man with a notoriously bad back, the schedule is taxing, in no small part because of the challenge the Omaha Country Club presents. Even in the best of circumstances, golfers will find themselves with a good number of side-hill and downhill lies. And then there’s that gnarly, 4-inch rough.
“If I drive it in the rough and don’t have a great lie, I’m not going to do too much out of it,” Couples said. “I’ll probably play it safe.”
Roger Chapman will try to become the first defending champion to repeat since Allen Doyle in 2006. Chapman, who also won the Senior PGA Championship last year, has not been able to recapture his 2012 magic. He has one top-10 finish in 13 events.
Notable first-time entrants are Colin Montgomerie, who turned 50 last month and tied for ninth in the Senior Players Championship; Rocco Mediate, who lost a playoff to Tiger Woods in the classic 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines; and Duffy Waldorf, who has six top-10s in 11 Champions Tour events this year.
Perry, the Charles Schwab Cup points leader, is looking for his second win of the year in a senior major. He shot three straight rounds in the 60s to win the Senior Players Championship by 2 shots over Couples and Waldorf in Pittsburgh.
“Anything that has ‘major’ attached to it was always my one goal,” Perry said. “Obviously, our majors out here probably are not looked upon like they are on the PGA Tour, but yet they’re still a major. It still will be attached to your name.”
Playing on the regular tour last week in West Virginia, Perry was 3 shots off the lead after two rounds of the Greenbrier Classic before ballooning to 73 on Saturday and finishing tied for 41st.
Watson shot in the 60s in three of his four rounds at the Greenbrier but tied for 38th after a 72 on Saturday. The 2014 Ryder Cup captain has two top-10 finishes in six Champions Tour events.
“Hot and cold,” Watson said, describing his game this year. “I struggled yesterday and today in practice rounds here. Then I got on the practice tee, and at the end of the session I started hitting the ball well again. Whether it’s going to work on the golf course tomorrow is anybody’s guess, but at least it’s on the upswing. If I can keep the ball on the fairway and get there on Sunday, that’s all I’m trying to get to.”
Langer, the Champions Tour money leader, is trying to regain the form that helped him win twice in the spring. Langer, who won the U.S. Senior Open in 2010 and tied for second last year, limited his practice to two nine-hole rounds because of the heat and humidity. He said the rough is as thick as “anywhere in the world,” and even if there’s no wind a golfer could be in contention shooting par.
“I can’t see too many 64s, 65s out here,” he said. “Even par is never a bad score in a U.S. Senior Open. If someone gets really hot, because the greens might not get to the speed where they want them because of the heat, there might be a chance a couple guys finish under par.”
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