Couples a wolf in sheep's clothing

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

MANASSAS, Va. -- He was going to take one for the team. It was his job. Freddy Couples was yesterday's designated sacrificial lamb.

But he turned out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Couples, a week short of his 46th birthday and largely unproductive in his three team matches, did not go quietly, facing Vijay Singh, the acknowledged best player on the International team in the Presidents Cup.

"Is he going to beat me eight times out of 10?" asked Couples. "I think so. But in a one-day time, I have just as good a shot as anybody."

In the ebb and flow of the 12 tension-packed singles matches, the American team grabbed an early advantage. Two hours into the proceedings yesterday, there were 10 Americans leading and two matches tied. It looked like a rout.

Bit by bit, however, the lead started to erode as one International player after another rallied. Late in the game, key matches started to become obvious and none was more pivotal than the Singh-Couples affair.

It finally became clear that if the Internationals were going to overcome, once and for all, the big American lead, then Singh would have to beat Couples.

He could have rolled over and nobody would have thought badly of him. Nearing the end of a distinguished career at the top, Couples doesn't have anything to answer for, except to himself and he already had done enough soul-searching for the entire team.

He talked about the team's final dinner together on Saturday evening and the inspiration he drew from it.

"(Saturday) night was something I'll remember as long as I live," he said. "Everybody got up and said just whatever they wanted to say. It was about wives and team and how we felt.

"Kenny Perry and I were sitting next to each other and he'd been getting smoked all week and I got a half-point Saturday so I felt a little better than he did but neither one of us felt like he was helping anybody. So then it was my turn to speak and I kind of lost it.

"I started bawling, actually, so I didn't get much out. I got a little bit out."

It was Couples' way of apologizing to his teammates for letting them down to that point.

It turned out to be therapeutic. Twelve hours later, he lost the first hole to Singh. He held at the second and then dropped a bomb on the world's No. 2-ranked player with a pair of birdies at three and four.

"I think, at that point, if I had any lack of confidence to start, it was all gone by then. The game was on," he said later.

The two traded a few more jabs through nine holes and Couples made the turn two-up. Singh finally drew even at the 16th. They halved the 17th then, after Singh made par at the 18th, Couples had a 20-foot putt to win the match.

Now Couples is not the most reliable putter on the planet. Probably not even the most reliable putter in his own home, but he is more deadly from 20 feet than he is from four feet.

As his putt trundled softly toward the hole, Couples started walking, his fist in the air. The big, partisan crowd erupted in as nosiy a cheer as any golfer has ever heard.

"I know someone said it was an early call but it was the only putt I made all week so I knew it was going in," he said later. "I guess it would have been embarrassing if it missed."

It didn't.

The matches didn't end right there. The Internationals battled, trying to get at least a draw. But after Couples had put a dagger through Singh's heart, that was the best they could hope for.

"We just laugh at what people say about no one being close on the American team and that people don't rely on each other and blah-blah-blah," Couples said.

"It's really so far from that but when you lose, you've got to come up with something."

Yesterday, as a team, the Americans didn't have to aplogize for anything. And neither did Fred Couples.


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