Fred Couples times it right to clinch victory
FRED Couples overcame the ignominy of being unfairly branded a slow coach – he blamed playing partner Bernhard Langer for the final group being put on the clock – to chalk up a first win on European soil as he recorded a two-stroke victory in the Senior Open Championship on the Ayrshire coast.
One behind Langer with nine holes to play, Couples came home in 32, three-under, for a closing 67 and a nine-under-par total of 271, his closest challenger at the finish being fellow American Gary Hallberg (66) after Langer covered the inward journey in an error-strewn 40 to slip to joint-sixth.
It was the second time in a fortnight that the German, normally so efficient, had let an over-50s major slip from his grasp after being overtaken by Englishman Roger Chapman in the US Senior Open despite taking a four-shot lead into the final round at Indianwood.
Couples, playing in this event for the first time at the age of 52, was the beneficiary of some sloppy play from Langer on this occasion as the 1992 Masters champion from Seattle became the ninth American in the past ten years to claim the title and a £199,000 top prize.
“I never won the Open Championship so this is the next best thing,” said Couples after adding to his 2011 Senior Players Championship success and, in the process, securing a spot in next year’s Open Championship at Muirfield. “I’ve also done it one a truly great golf course – that’s the best thing about it.”
On the slow play incident – which happened at the 12th and immediately led to Couples dropping a shot – he added: “I was a little bit upset as I’ve not had a bad time for a long time. Indeed, I can’t remember ever having one. I felt it was at the wrong time and the wrong way of doingw it, but, thankfully, it was no big deal in the end.”
On another testing day on the Ayrshire course, there were no sub-par scores among the morning starters and, just to add to the challenge, the leaders set out in the heaviest shower of the week, the downpour sending spectators scurrying for cover.
A shot clear at the start, Langer holed from 20ft to save par at the first, where Couples would also have been happy to mark a 4 on his card after he’d found thick rough with his opening tee shot. It didn’t take long, though, for the lead to change hands. While Langer, after pulling his approach, failed to get up and down at the second, Couples made his first birdie of the day, a two-shot swing there putting the American in front for the first time all week.
Langer, of course, isn’t the type to press the panic button and he was soon back in front again. A Couples bogey at the third, where he found sand off the tee, followed by a birdie from Langer at the short sixth, where he rolled in a 25-footer up the hill, took the German to the top of the pile once more.
Hallberg, the halfway leader after his best-of-the-week 63 on Friday, forced his way into contention with back-to-back birdies at the sixth and seventh, the burst moving him to five-under, two off the lead by the time the leaders had gone through the turn. At that stage, Peter Fowler, on four-under, appeared to be the only other player in contention and the Australian crept more into the picture after a birdie at the tenth.
Barry Lane, who had started in joint-fourth, four behind, dented his hopes with two early bogeys before battling back with three birdies around the turn. Just as he made the last of those, however, Couples delivered a telling thrust early on the back nine. It earned him successive birdies at the 11th and 12th, the latter taking him back into the lead again as Langer ran up a double-bogey 6 there after finding rough off the tee.
It left Couples three shots clear of Langer, but only two ahead of Hallberg as he continued to plot his way around without putting a foot wrong. That drama at the 12th happened just as the final pairing had been put on the clock and, after then being told of his “bad time”, Couples immediately three-putted the next to lead his fellow American by just one shot.
The leader, normally so laid-back, was livid. “If I get another bad time, there’s going to be trouble because it’s not me,” he was overheard as saying. That was a reference to Langer being renowned for his snail’s pace and, at the 14th, Gene Smith, the PGA Tour referee out with the final match, did indeed hand the German a “bad time” as well.
With Langer uncharacteristically then dropping shots at the 14th, 15th and 16th and Fowler seeing his hopes disappear with a lost ball off the penultimate tee and taking 7 there, it was now down to a battle between Couples and Hallberg over the closing few holes. Playing two groups ahead, Hallberg safely found the heart of the green at the par-5 17th, but had to settle for a birdie, which earned him a share of the lead.
Couples matched that 4, though, to edge in front again and, despite missing the fairway with his tee shot at the last, he safely found the middle of the green with his approach and, to the delight of the spectators, rolled in a 30ft birdie putt to seal his victory in style.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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