Fred Couples arrives back home on another roll

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SNOQUALMIE, Wash. — It has been a good month to be Fred Couples.

In July, at famed Turnberry in Scotland, Couples shot a final-round 67 to win the Senior British Open.

Then there was a couple of weeks of vacation, in Rome and at one of the most beautiful spots in the world, the Greek island of Santorini.

Now Couples returns to his boyhood home of Seattle, playing this week in the Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie. An adoring crowd will try to will him to victory in the three-day tournament that begins Friday.

Yes, it’s a good month to be Fred Couples.

“Everyone says winning in your town is like a major,” Couples said, comparing this week’s Boeing Classic to the two senior major tournaments he has won. “I really want to win this tournament, too.”

Couples, who graduated from O’Dea High School in 1977, nearly won for the hometown fans in the U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish in 2010, the year he turned 50 and became eligible for the Champions Tour. He led after the third round before finishing second in a last-round duel with Bernhard Langer.

Couples has finished third and tied for 16th in two tries at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. Couples said the course should fit him nicely, but he had trouble with the par 5s in his first year, and is still trying to solve the final stretch of holes.

“I don’t really play 15, 16, 17 or 18 well at all, and it kind of makes for a sour finish,” said Couples, who begins his first round Friday at 12:50 p.m. “So I just paid a little more attention (in the Pro-Am).”

For Couples, talent has never been a question. But it has been a constant struggle to manage his chronic bad back. He has felt better since undergoing treatment in Germany a couple of years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still an issue.

“It would be nice for me to leave here and go on a boat on Lake Washington and get back at 6 (p.m.) and eat dinner,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “But if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to move tomorrow. I’ve done all that. I’ve tried it.

“I haven’t hit that spot yet where I think I don’t play well. My body’s been shot for a while, but I can go play, which also is lucky.”

Couples said he can’t imagine being on the Tour in 10 years because he is “slowing down fast,” but he still is a long hitter, even by PGA Tour standards. And, as he showed in becoming the oldest 36-hole leader in Masters history last spring, he can play with the world’s best.

And he is still a force on the Champions Tour, as displayed by his win at the Senior British Open. That earned him a spot in next year’s British Open, which will be held at Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland.

Langer, a two-time Masters champion and the hottest player on the Champions Tour, said he thinks Couples (along with defending champion Mark Calcavecchia) should be one of the favorites.

“Fred still hits it as well as he ever has, and he is a much better putter than he is given credit for,” Langer said. “He can win on any course.”

As if local fans needed any more reason to cheer for him, Couples always gets the crowd excited on the 14th hole, the drivable par-4 that goes over a canyon. Most players take the safe route and lay up with their drive. Not Couples.

“I watched it on TV before I turned 50 ... and I was a nervous wreck when I got here and played it because you don’t know how far it’s going to go,” he said. “I have gone for the green every time, and haven’t had many horrible things there yet.”

Couples won’t play much after this week and is looking forward to being an assistant captain on the Ryder Cup team, where he said his main job will be “keeping (captain) Davis Love loose” in the matches at the end of September.

In the meantime, he has other business to tend to.

“I expect to go out and play well,” Couples said, adding he expects to be in contention Sunday. “Like everyone else, I’ve got to get off to a good start Friday and go from there.”

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