DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — At the age of 48, Fred Couples knows his days among the elite players in the world are dwindling. Not much longer will he be able to fight his balky back, not to mention a long list of players half his age.
Still, he’s driven to play in the biggest tournaments against the best players.
That’s why he’s willing to hang around an extra night in a hotel room after this week’s Memorial Tournament to play a 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier at two courses in Columbus.
The finality of it all — or at least the possibility of it being a swan song — also pushes him.
“I want to play because it’s probably going to be my last U.S. Open,” he said of the next major in two weeks at Torrey Pines in San Diego.
So he’ll get up at the break of dawn on Monday and drive to Brookside Golf and Country Club for his first 18 holes. After a quick lunch, he’ll stretch his back and play 18 more holes at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course.
At his age, and with his painful spinal problems, 36 holes can be torture.
“I don’t know the two courses,” he said Friday. “I have to make a lot of birdies because I’m sure I’ll make some mistakes in 36 holes. But I’ll give it a shot.”
Couples, who won the Memorial in 1998 and has finished second in two of his last three visits, shot a 71 Friday to finish 36 holes at 1-under 143. He’s still in contention.
But after 28 years on tour, he knows his limitations. He also knows that just walking, let alone playing well, at an extremely difficult Muirfield Village is enough of a trial.
“This course is enough to make you want to rest,” he said. “Then 36 holes Monday; it’s going to be tough.”
Unless he someday wins a Senior Open, thus getting an automatic spot in the U.S. Open, he recognizes that he might be asking too much of his body.
This may be his last shot at going through a grueling 36 holes to have a chance at playing in another U.S. Open.
“I just don’t know,” he said softly. “If I get in this year, and don’t play well, and I’m not in next year, to do that again … I think my days are done.”
IT’S NOT 1994: Tom Lehman, the Memorial winner 14 years ago, said there’s very little comparison between the Muirfield Village course he won on and the current one.
“It’s quite a bit different,” he said.
Over the years since Lehman’s win, the layout has gotten longer, the rough has gotten deeper and — this year at least — the greens are as fast as any venue on this or any year’s schedule.
“I’m not going to speak for Mr. Nicklaus or even try to read his mind, but certainly he wants this to be a major championship-quality test,” said Lehman, who hasn’t finished in the top 10 at the Memorial since winning.
“It seems to me that he’s been tweaking the course all along in that effort. He’s looking for that perfect combination of fast course, fast greens, some rough, toss in a little bit of wind – and par becomes a different number.”
Still, Lehman had one of Friday’s few subpar rounds, shooting a 70 that left him at 2-over 176.
He refused to join those pros criticizing the course.
“The course, I’ve always believed, is fair. I still think it’s fair,” he said. “It’s hard, though — very hard. It’s like some courses are becoming so difficult, like Augusta National, for example. They become so difficult that they lose some of their fun.”
Then, as if speaking to all the younger players bellyaching because they can’t birdie every hole, he added, “But it’s competitive golf, so you suck it up and go.”
WIND TUNNEL: Temperatures remained in the 70s and 80s. There was no rain. For the most part, the sun shone. It was a beautiful day.
Yet swirling, unpredictable winds plagued players in Friday’s second round of the Memorial Tournament. With the course already playing hard and fast, the wind made it almost painfully difficult to score.
“It’s four or five shots tougher than yesterday,” said Geoff Ogilvy, winner of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. “You can still have a good score, but your misses are just accentuated when the weather’s like this.”
Phil Mickelson said even the short game was affected by the wind.
“The tough thing was putting and chipping because it was about a 10 percent effect, so if you had a 50-footer the wind would blow it 5 feet off line,” he said. “I thought that was the biggest challenge.”
Justin Rose opened with a 68 and then sagged to a 73 but remained in contention at 3-under 141.
“That was the kind of day where it could really get away from you,” he said.
DIVOTS: Due to a forecast storm, the third round will be played with threesomes going off both tees starting at 10:45 a.m. with the leaders beginning around 12:45 p.m. … Johnson Wagner went 11 shots under his first-round score when he had a 67, best of the day. … Ian Poulter holed a 182-yard shot on No. 18 for eagle. … Defending champion K.J. Choi barely made the cut at 5-over 150. … Ernie Els was in, withdrew and then was in again. Maybe he should have stayed out, shooting a 78 to miss the cut at 151.