|Forever young Couples near SHO lead - April 04, 2009
BY ED FOWLER
Fred Couples’ gray hair wasn’t exactly on fire but he was moving at a high rate of speed for a man months away from the Champions Tour.
“Birdied my last hole,” he said as he paused in front of the Redstone Golf Club clubhouse. “Goin’ back to watch the second game (of the Final Four) and crash. See you at 6:30 tomorrow.”
And with that he was off. For all that, he paused longer than the overnight leader of the 2009 Shell Houston Open, Bo Van Pelt, and some others. Everyone was in a hurry to return to something that looked normal.
As darkness fell on Saturday, Van Pelt, with a birdie on his last hole, stood alone at the top. His 11-under total led Couples, Tommy Armour III, Paul Casey and Colt Knost by a shot. Of that contingent, all except Couples had completed eight holes when third-round play was halted for the day. Couples had just posted birdie on No. 10.
Only five players had finished the second round when darkness fell on Friday. Everyone else completed that lap beginning Saturday morning and those who made the cut were off again about 20 minutes following the conclusion of the second round. A rain delay had gummed up the works on Thursday morning and high winds resulted in an end to play in mid-afternoon. The next two days looked something like a charity scramble – all right, the irons were a bit crisper – with golfers racing off to various holes and traipsing back in from all points on the course.
And they weren’t finished. The third round was scheduled to resume Sunday at 7:30 a.m. with hopes of beginning the final round at 9:30.
Jason Bohn, who was in the cluster two shots off Van Pelt’s lead, said the last time he played a normal 18 holes of golf was in the practice round on Tuesday. “It’s hard to tell what day it is,” he said. “But tomorrow’s payday, that much is for sure.”
Indeed, that was the bottom line. If the weather had no more havoc in store, Sunday would bring an honorable conclusion to a tournament that was doing a good job of getting the game’s best players toughened up for the Masters. Even eating was different.
“I can’t tell you how many peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches I ate out there today,” said Bohn, “but it was a lot. Power Bars . . . whatever you could do to feed yourself.”
Whatever the challenges, they were still playing. A number of notables were not. Defending champion Johnson Wagner missed the one-under cut by a stroke with a second-round 74. Vijay Singh, a three-time winner in Houston, also failed to make what was left of the weekend, as did Phil Mickelson. K. J. Choi and Jeff Maggert, who live in the area, also missed the cut.
Plenty of star power remained, however. Couples, whose last victory came at Redstone in 2003, before the event moved over to the Tournament Course, has a huge local following going back to his days at the University of Houston. He became the first – and still only – member of that storied program to win the local tour stop.
“When I won in 2003 I hadn’t won in a while but just with the people yelling ‘Houston Cougar this and Cougar that’ and now today with a lot of people still out there at 7:30 at night, well, tomorrow will be a lot of fun.”
And he isn’t the only graying heartthrob still in contention. Greg Norman, already active on the Champions Tour, was one of six players to complete the third round. He shot 70 and stands five shots off the lead. He could look forward to a good night’s sleep to bring his older bones to parity with the youngsters in front of him on the leader board.
If more drama were needed, Van Pelt and a number of others in contention were playing for a spot in the Masters field. Among those within two shots of the lead, Armour, Knost, Bohn, Ryan Moore and Jonathan Byrd were all playing for a trip to Augusta. Couples, Paul Casey, Robert Karlsson, Lee Westwood and Geoff Ogilvy had places locked up.