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Couples set for Champions Tour event

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SNOQUALMIE, Wash. (AP) - Fred Couples has wanted just one shot to win a golf tournament in front of family and friends in the Seattle area.

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What happened last year in the Boeing Classic wasn't what he had in mind. Indeed, he had just one shot.

Couples hit his opening drive on his first hole Friday and withdrew. His chronic back pain flared up once again and prevented him from continuing.

``That was as big a bummer as I've ever had because I was playing really, really well,'' Couples said Thursday after his pro-am round. ``It was a touch embarrassing, to me, coming up here ready to play and people are driving cars onto the course and I'm driving away from the golf course. It was a little weird.''

Couples, who grew up playing Seattle's Jefferson Park - a public course where his father was superintendent - has played four previous tour events in the Seattle area without a victory.

His first was the 1998 PGA Championship at Sahalee. He tied for 13th. Twelve years later again at Sahalee, he finished second in the 2010 Senior PGA Championship. A month later in his inaugural appearance in the Boeing, he finished third. The next year he tied for 16th.

Last year after Couples won the Senior British Open at Turnberry, he took nearly a month off and had extensive treatment on his back to prepare for Boeing. His back held up long enough for one swing.

``I would love to win this tournament,'' Couples said. ``It better happen in the next two or three years because I think I might be slowing down.''

Couples, a recent Hall of Fame inductee who won the 1996 Masters, has 15 career PGA Tour victories and 162 top-10 finishes in a career marked by back issues.

Rocco Mediate, a Champions Tour rookie this season and longtime friend and competitor, said Couples ``should have won about 50 golf tournaments and 10 majors as good as he plays, as good as he hits his ball. He's one of the purest I've ever seen.''

``Every year he plays like 10 times and plays great pretty much every time and his back destroys him,'' Mediate said. ``I know the feeling. His (back) is more chronic, it just keeps coming after him obviously. I can't imagine what he would have done fairly healthy over his career, it would have been astronomical.''

Couples remembers his back flaring up for about four previous tournaments in his career, where he either couldn't start or couldn't finish.

``It just gets so locked up that just putting your foot on the ground is like excruciating pain,'' he said. ``It's usually six to eight weeks (to recover) then I'm fine.''

Couples has not played since the end of July, at the Senior British Open at Royal Birkdale, where he tied for 21st.

``It's been a little better practicing than usual,'' he said, ``because it's important that I come up here and play well.''

One player playing quite well is Kenny Perry, with two major victories, nine top 10s and the lead in the Charles Schwab Cup standings. However, Perry lost his major weapon this week. His driver was accidentally destroyed by airlines maintenance on his flight to Seattle and he hasn't found a suitable replacement.

``It's the one I've used all year,'' Perry said. ``My backup wasn't all that good. It's pretty disheartening to go from a driver that gave you such an advantage to now, I'm searching again and trying to figure out how to play with (another) one.

``It (replacement) doesn't seem to have the pop to it. It seems sluggish and slow. I was hitting straight but I just feel I'm missing out on 12 to 15 yards.''

This will be Perry third appearance at Boeing and he understands how the supportive the gallery will be from Couples all weekend.

``I think Fred is definitely very motivated to do well in front of his home folks, but we're not going to change the way we play,'' Perry said. ``I like being the spoiler and I like being the underdog.''

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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