Peter Koutroumpis (@pksport)
CARY, NC – Currently sitting as the co-leader heading into Sunday’s final round of the 2022 SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club, Fred Couples is following his plan.
Coming into the final PGA Tour Champions event before the start of the Schwab Cup Playoffs, it would be a challenge for him to play on during a challenging season considering the back issues he’s been dealing with.
Even while he currently sits 60th on the Tour Money List ($247,475), he stated that no matter how well he played at the SAS Championship, it would be his last tournament of the year.
“This is for me a rough year because I haven’t really played well or a whole lot, right,” Couples said after carding his first 68 of the tournament on Friday.
“But this is my last tournament. But for the other guys, yeah, they’re fighting, you know some are fighting to get into Virginia and others are fighting to get in Phoenix the last tournament of the year which is a nice pay day. And unfortunately for me, no matter how I do here, I hope I win, everyone wants to win, but I will be done.”
It’s been a while
Tournament titles have eluded the 63-year-old for the past five-plus years.
There have been a handful of runner-up finishes, but not the big prize.
A SAS Championship title would earn Couples his 14th win on PGA TOUR Champions in 137 starts and would move him into a tie for 17th on the Champions Tour all-time wins list.
Among active Champions Tour players, he currently ranks tied for third in all-time wins, behind Bernhard Langer (43) and Jay Haas (18).
When leading or co-leading, Couples has a 50% conversion rate, so it will not be surprising to see him raise the crystal when all is said and done.
Eight may not be enough
Making his eighth start of the season, Couples has one top-10 finish – a T2 result at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic.
Making his fourth appearance at the SAS, where his best finish has been 5th back in 2011, the trip across the country was one he wanted to make.
“It’s a challenge for all of us,” he said of winning tournaments.
“So for me I just want to play well. So if I play well, that’s great. But for some people you know they’re battling hard – everyone wants to keep playing. But I gotta get back and rest. I just wanted to come here. I like the tournament, I like the course, and I could come and compete.”
He expanded upon the reasoning for his decision to end his season after the week in the Triangle at the SAS is over.
“I mean, I enjoy playing. Back problems are the worst thing for anyone as they get older, and it just becomes…it’s harder to play, you know. I practiced a little harder than I normally do yesterday because I haven’t played any, and on the range today I felt absolutely horrible. So tomorrow I gotta see how I feel when I wake up. And how much I practice before I play. Again, I’ve been doing this a long time. So, I get when anyone’s saying, ‘if you’re 55 or 75…’, there comes a time when you’re done. Like I said, it’s my eighth tournament. Eight tournaments is nothing.”
Despite not feeling great at the start of the day Friday, Couples finished just three shots back of Rocco Mediate.
He was just hoping to play well on Saturday and subsequently put himself at the top of the leaderboard with a second 4-under par 68 finish in as many days.
When a golfer has endured injuries and continues to compete, but not to the level he feels is adequate for him, something has to give.
Either push through pain to continue playing and not win anything, or make a decision to regroup and not push it to the point of playing with the fear that the next swing may be the last one.
“I don’t want to think about that now,” Couples said very quickly in response to that scenario.
“Okay. I will say that, you know, one year of poor play where you don’t really beat anybody, then that’s time for me. You know, if I played 16 tournaments this year and and played this poorly then I would look at the next year as either working as hard as I can or saying you know…I don’t really…I’m 63 now…I don’t want to fly five hours from L.A. to Raleigh to play poorly.
“Today was a good day. So you know, I’m hoping next year, I get through three months of rest and I can come out and actually play golf, not just play at it. Each day is like, what’s going to happen the next day? Whereas, when you’re feeling good, you wake up and you say okay, now I’m gonna play.”
Heading into Sunday at the SAS after making that statement just days earlier, Couples is playing well, playing for the title and has the opportunity to carry the crystal onto the plane back to L.A. saying it was all worth it and looking forward to taking that much needed break.
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