Couples searching for Norman's fountain of youth

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

OAKVILLE -- In the wake of recent events at Royal Birkdale, it appears that nostalgia is a functional Band-Aid to the bleeding caused by the absence of the injured Tiger Woods, much to the surprise of those who declared the PGA Tour dead without the world's No. 1 player.

If a 53-year old Greg Norman can contend at the British Open and draw the superlatives of fans around the globe, then perhaps the most significant entry into the field at this week's RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey is fan favourite Fred Couples.

Like the Shark last weekend, Couples, 48, will need to catch the galleries off-guard with his play, but being able to contend is not that outrageous since he has three top-10 finishes in 12 starts this year, including a tie for fourth at the Shell Houston Open in April.

The last PGA Tour win for Couples, who has missed just two cuts in 2008, came five years ago at the Houston Open, but no matter what happens during this soggy Canadian Open, Couples is likely to spark a few "Fredd-ie, Fredd-ie" chants.

"I grew up in Seattle, so I've been to Vancouver a lot. I think the people, they all make the event and the galleries are huge at the Canadian Open," the 1992 Masters champ said.

"It's nice to see that they're moving it. They played at Shaughnessy (in Vancouver) -- I wish I would have played. I hear (2005 champion Mark Calcavecchia) calling it one of the greatest courses he have ever played."

So familiarity does not breed contempt in Couples' relationship with this country, but success has also softened him after winning the Canadian Skins Game five times and pocketing a cool $1,140,000 in nine appearances. There are other fond memories, too.

"One of my first years playing up here, playing with (Jack) Nicklaus, which was amazing early in my career and then, obviously, some good Skins Games and winning those," he said.

With that in mind, Couples says nothing should be read into the fact that he has been absent from the Canadian Open field since 1995, when he tied for 34th at Glen Abbey. He has played nine Canadian Opens in all with his best performance a second-place finish in 1993.

"I like the Canadian Open," he said.

"Oddly enough, I've never played the Canadian Open outside of this golf course. I've had great memories here and I've never really done well with a chance of winning, but I've usually played pretty decent here.

"I think we're here again next year, so I've got one more year to play in this thing," said Couples, who didn't participate at Royal Birkdale last week.

HEALTH ISSUES

Over the past couple of seasons, Couples has been plagued by health problems. In late 2006, he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm that hospitalized him after he tied for third at the Masters that year.

Last year, back problems limited Couples to just three official events and he didn't play a tournament after the Masters.

The Champions Tour is on the horizon, but Couples will make one more whirl around the PGA Tour next year before serving as captain of the American team at the Presidents Cup in San Francisco.

"I don't want to look past being the captain," he said.

"I'll be on the (PGA) Tour next year, so I'll be playing and seeing some of the guys. I think towards the end, I'll look forward to the (Champions Tour), but I don't want to look past playing and then, being the captain," he said.

Wherever he ends up on the leaderboard, fans are usually following him and any kind of excitement is good news these days for the Tiger-less Tour.


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