SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Fred Couples hasn’t needed much help dominating the Champions Tour, winning three of his first five starts on the 50-and-over circuit.
At the Legends of Golf, Couples can’t win by himself, no matter how sharp his game is right now.
Couples and partner Jay Haas are heavy favorites to take the team title at Savannah Harbor Golf Resort that starts Friday.
“I have a partner,” said Couples, who’s won almost $1 million so far on the 50-and-over tour. “So the target’s a little smaller on my back, and it’s on his, too.”
While it’s Couples first time here, Haas has had success at the Legends. He won in 2006 and 2007 during a stretch when the tournament switched from its popular team format to individual stroke play. The event returned to better-ball competition in 2008.
The Legends of Golf also marks the return of Ken Green to competition after almost a year of unthinkable tragedies. Green had his lower right leg amputated after an RV he was riding in crashed last June, killing his brother William; his girlfriend, Jean Marie Hodgin; and his beloved German Shepherd, Nip.
While Green was recuperating from that blow, his 21-year-old son, Hunter, was found dead in his SMU dorm room in January. An autopsy showed Hunter Green died from a combination of prescription medicine and alcohol.
“What Ken’s gone through has been unbelievable,” said Andy North, who won the 2008 event partnered with Tom Watson. “The fact that (Green) can come out here and have a chance to compete again, I think is really cool.”
No one’s been hotter on tour than Couples, who’s showed off the “Boom-Boom” of his drives since making his debut at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii. Couples reeled off 12 consecutive rounds in the 60s, a streak that ended last week at the Outback Championships.
And don’t forget his riveting run at Augusta National, where his 66 on Thursday made him the oldest to hold the outright Masters lead. Couples was right there on Sunday, too, until his tee-shot on the par-3 12th wound up wet. He eventually finished sixth behind champion Phil Mickelson.
Couples has been a Champions Tour phenom, earning a front-page cover on GolfWorld with the headline “Freddie Fever.”
“I’ve been driving it very well and putting very well for me,” Couples said. “If you’re going to be in the hunt and you play well on Sunday, you’re probably going to have a good shot at winning, and that’s pretty much what I’ve done.”
Couples and Haas have been good friends for some time. Last year, captain Couples chose Haas as an assistant for the United States team that won the Presidents Cup.
Haas remembered talking with Couples then about the Champions Tour. “And he just said, ‘We’re playing in the Legends for sure,’ and I said yes, we were.”
Haas has been one of the tour’s top performers with 14 victories since 2005. However, he’s had just one top 10 finish this year. Still, Haas understands he can’t sit back and let Couples drag him to the top.
“He obviously been playing really well,” Haas said. “But that being said, it’s definitely a two-man game. I can’t just show up. I need to contribute.
“I think both of us have to play some of our best golf to succeed in this,” Haas said.
For Couples, the Legends is halfway through a grueling stretch of seven straight golf tournaments he hasn’t tried to pull off since 1992 – the year he won the Masters.
Couples, famous for a balky back, thought about resting after Augusta. But he felt healthy and strong and wanted to keep his good run going as long as he could.
After this, he’s back to the PGA Tour for the Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, N.C., and The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
“I think if I am swinging good,” Couples said, “there’s a lot of places I can still do well.”