Fred Couples willing to try something new at Jeju

Fred Couples willing to try something new at Jeju

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea (AP) Even after a few decades as a pro, Fred Couples still looks forward to new experiences.

Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, will add another venue to his long list of destinations when he tees off at the $2.9 million Ballantine's Championship at Jeju Island.

He'll be among the leading contenders when the tournament – jointly sanctioned by the European, Asian and Korean Tours – starts Thursday at the Pinx Golf Club on this southern resort island.

“I've been traveling since probably the British Open in 1983, and the most fun is playing in front of people that you don't usually play in front of,'' Couples said.

That helps raise the stakes for the higher profile players in the field, the 49-year-old Couples said.

“You come to Korea, you want to play well. There's probably more pressure, and that's a good thing, because if you play at home in the United States, they see you all the time,'' he said. “So one of the best parts is coming and playing in a different place. It's a learning experience and a lot of fun.''

Three-time major winner Ernie Els of South Africa, No. 9-ranked Henrik Stenson, European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie and England's Lee Westwood, an 18-time winner on the European Tour, are also in the field.

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, who won here last year with a birdie on the third hole of a playoff with India's Jeev Milkha Singh, has returned to defend his title.

Noh Seung-yul, the 17-year-old South Korean, is among a contingent of Asian Tour contenders that also includes China's Liang Wenchong, the Asian No. 1 in 2007, American Anthony Kang, the current Order of Merit leader, Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng and Taiwan's Lin Wen-tang.

Couples has finished tied for third in PGA Tour events at Houston and Los Angeles this season and has 15 career titles on the tour.

“I've played maybe eight tournaments and missed a few cuts, but the times I've played, I played pretty well.''

He's hoping his experience will help him master the breezy local conditions.

“I've been playing in windy weather every week, so this could be a normal fit for me. I hope to have that to fall back to,'' he said. “I think the tougher the conditions may help me a little bit, where the scoring isn't crazy and guys are shooting 67s and 68s every round.''

Westwood hasn't won a title since September 2007 and is desperate to turn that around. It took him 31 hours to reach Jeju after a couple of aborted landings and redirected flights due to high winds.

“I haven't won for over a year now, so I would like to get back to winning,'' Westwood said. “I was close last year and lost a couple of playoffs. I finished close in the World Golf Championships event at Akron and close at the US Open, where I was third.

“My game has been good, but I've just not been finishing the weeks off. It will be good to get some form together this week and try and win.''

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