Couples sinks birdie putt to win at Fallen Oak
By DAVID BRANDT
SAUCIER, Miss. (AP) Fred Couples looks like a man who is ready for another run at the Masters.
The 52-year-old made a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to win the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic, capping an impressive showing at the Champions Tour event just two weeks before his annual trip to Augusta.
"I want to go into (the Masters) after winning a tournament like this feeling some confidence and I did get a lot today," Couples said. "I hit a lot of good shots. I would say I've got a lot to work on, but if I can drive it like that, the course will be easier."
Couples made the tournament's outcome more interesting than he would have liked.
He easily navigated through the first 14 holes on Sunday with four birdies, no bogeys and no major trouble. But he surprisingly bogeyed the par-5 15th after a poor approach and chip shot, and carded another bogey on the par-3 17th before a flawless final hole salvaged the victory.
The 18th at Fallen Oak is the toughest-rated on the course, but Couples crushed his drive right down the middle of the fairway and used his sand wedge to clear a water hazard and stick the approach close to the hole.
His final putt was slightly downhill and he hit it perfectly. Couples admitted to getting "a little jumpy" down the stretch, but said he played well enough earlier in the round to give him a cushion.
"The bottom line is you get a lot of chances to win if you play well," Couples said.
Couples started the day tied for the lead with Jeff Sluman, but moved ahead with a birdie on the first hole. He led the rest of the day until the 17th, when his bogey dropped him into a tie with Michael Allen.
Allen admitted he was surprised to find himself that close to a playoff. He shot a 6 under 66 on Sunday.
"I don't get too caught up in it," Allen said. "That's one of the reasons I don't watch scoreboards - I don't need any extra anxiety. Just do what I do. Then all of a sudden (on 18) I'm like, do I have to think of a speech?"
That wasn't necessary, thanks to Couples' clutch putt.
He shot a 3 under 69 in the final round to win $240,000. It is his seventh career victory on the Champions Tour and first this season.
Couples finished at 14 under for the tournament. Allen finished one stroke behind, and Sluman and Tom Pernice Jr. finished tied for third at 10 under.
Couples now prepares for a few weeks on the PGA Tour. He's scheduled to play in the Houston Open next week and will then head to the Masters, where he's had plenty of recent success, with top-15 finishes the past two years. He won in 1992 and has 10 career top 10s.
Fallen Oak has some similarities to Augusta because of the southern location and lush landscape, and it became a much tougher golf course as the weekend progressed.
The Gulf Coast was soaked by more than nine inches of rain earlier in the week, which led to very soft conditions during Friday's opening round. It left the course vulnerable to low scores, including Couples' course-record 9-under 63.
But sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s dried the course quickly by Sunday, making for faster greens. Factor in a swirling wind and more difficult pin positions and birdies were harder to find.
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Updated March 25, 2012