Fred Couples shoots 60, wins SAS Championship


CARY, NC: At age 63 and without a victory in 1,939 days, Fred Couples is back in the winner’s circle.

And the Hall of Famer did it in memorable fashion.

Using birdie runs of five in a row to close the front nine and seven in a row to close the tournament, Couples shot a bogey-free 12-under 60 to turn a tight contest at the PGA TOUR Champions SAS Championship in Cary, North Carolina, into more of a coronation.

Couples not only bested his age by three shots, but it was the lowest round in SAS history and the lowest of Couples’ career on the Champions Tour. He finished at 20-under par to beat Steven Alker, the Charles Schwab Cup standings leader, by six shots and 2019 SAS Championship winner Jerry Kelly by seven.

“It feels really, really good,” Couples said. “I was talking to someone after yesterday’s round and I just said, you know, someone is going to shoot 65 or 66 and win. And obviously I think Alker, I don’t know what he shot, 8 under. But like I said, I warmed up on the range better than I’ve ever felt and I played really, really well. I did hit a crappy shot on 10 in the hazard and I made about a 30-footer for par, which was huge. Then I just started making putts.

“The back nine, honestly, I’ve shot 58 and 59 before, never in a tournament, but for a little bit of money and stuff and you pay a lot of attention, but today I just was trying to stay two or three ahead of Jerry because I knew I could birdie at any given time. So that was really my goal. I wasn’t worried about Alker or Y.E. Yang (who entered the day tied with Couples before falling well off the pace) or really anyone else. I knew if I just stayed two ahead of him. And then I got three and four and five then it was over. Wow, he put a barrage of birdies on the front, too. I just made them all on the back.”

Couples hadn’t won since the American Family Insurance Championship in May 2017. The SAS Championship became his 14th victory on the PGA TOUR Champions.

Couples averaged third in driving distance for the week and second in putts per green in regulation.

“It’s easy to say because we’re standing here, but I think it’s the best round I’ve ever played,” Couples said. “I hit a few loose shots, you know, got away from them, but I made so many putts.

“You know, I don’t know what other rounds I’ve ever shot on the Champions Tour that are close to 60, so this would probably be my best round and lowest score by far.”

Even with Sunday’s heroics, Couples said he would not play again this year, eschewing the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs despite the fact the victory moved him from 60th to 34th in the standings.

“Well, I was building to going to Dodger games and going to Seattle for a Mariners game, but now I’m going to possibly go to the Padres and watch them play,” Couples said. “I’m not that kind of a guy, I need to pay attention to my game. So I’ll probably take the rest of this month off and then I’ll gradually start hitting a few in November, December. That’s normally when I do well because I live in California, the weather’s perfect. Once the season starts, I like to get off to a good start.

“This year my back was so bad, I really couldn’t even play until Augusta and I probably shouldn’t have played there, but I enjoyed playing there. This is my eighth tournament that I’ve played in, so that’s not very many.”

Griffin Flesch, son of Steve Flesch, a two-time winner on PGA TOUR Champions this season, caddied for Couples this week.

“Just incredible. I mean, extremely easy to work for somebody when they’re playing that well,” Flesch said. “I’ve worked for my dad a little bit. Never had a day quite this easy. Just really, really cool experience and I’m glad that I got the nod to be out here for it.”

Alker shot an even-par 72 on Friday that left him in a tie for 40th. But with 17 top 25s in 19 events this year, he didn’t figure to stay in the back of the pack.

“It just got better as the week went on, swing started grooving. Even this morning on the range and yesterday was good out on the course,” Alker said. “Yeah, started hitting the yardages and putting nicely, so it’s all come together. So good timing for the Playoffs coming up, just got a lot of work to do. Another three events, it doesn’t sound like much, but there’s a lot of work to do yet.”

Alker was left in awe of Couples’ performance.

“It’s sensational,” Alker said. “The scoring is out there, but I didn’t see 11 under or whatever it is. He’s putting for 60 or something. Yeah, that’s insane. Obviously Freddie just got it in the groove and has it rolling. You don’t shoot 12 under without putting well. Good on him, that’s fantastic, good to see.”

Fairways Magazine

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