THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Fred Couples said on Thursday that despite his chronically injured back he will try to return to the PGA Tour in 2008.
The 15-time Tour winner will make his season debut at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, Jan. 16-20, in hopes of playing his way into form in time for Augusta. He has the longest active streak of consecutive cuts made at the Masters with 23 in a row.
"I'd like to play there again," Couples said after shooting a two-over-par 74, eight strokes behind leader Jim Furyk in the first round of the Target World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club. "If I get injured early in the year, I'm going to pack it in."
A five-time Ryder Cupper, Couples, 48, played almost no competitive golf in 2007. He shot 72-70 to miss the cut at the FBR Open, withdrew from the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, tied for 30th at the Masters and took the rest of the year off.
He planned to play in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, since Bridgestone is one of his major sponsors, and the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, but he never hit a shot in either event. He said he missed the game "less than I thought I would."
Since he started working with teacher Butch Harmon again in November, Couples has finished second in the LG Skins Game in Palm Springs and ninth (with partner John Daly) in the Merrill Lynch Shootout in Naples, Fla.
He hasn't played enough to develop calluses.
"It's embarrassing," Couples said, looking down at his hands, which were chapped and sealed with glue. "And I have pretty good skin."
Couples wears no golf glove and avoids taping or bandaging his fingers to preserve feel, a commodity that was in short supply in the first round of the Target. He made an eagle 3 on the 534-yard fifth hole but hit only eight of 14 fairways, second worst in the field. He hit only 11 greens in regulation.
Putting is also a problem, Couples said, because his bad back prevents him from bending over to read the break, a significant liability on unfamiliar greens.
"I don't have a problem playing at home," he said. "I usually do all right. I make a lot of birdies. … Maybe I'll figure it out the next three days."