Duval, who finished second in the Memorial in 1995 and '96, threatened to add to his quickly built collection of five victories, but two mistakes held him back. After a disappointing first round (74), he looked like the man to beat when he shot 66-67 despite finishing last Saturday's round with an ugly double bogey. He tried to hit a seven-iron onto the green from the rough, but his ball stayed in the long grass. He needed two shots to reach the green. "It was really stupid of me to try to hit it near the green," Duval said. "That's probably the worst decision I've made this year."
With a birdie at the 8th hole on Sunday, Duval moved into a tie for second, four shots behind. Then he tried to knock down a nine-iron shot at the 9th. He knocked it down, all right, right into the water fronting the green. That cost him another double and any chance of catching Couples.
Brandel Chamblee and Andrew Magee were also in the chase. Chamblee, a good wind player from Texas, found himself in second early on the back nine, four shots behind Couples, but he three-putted the 14th and bogeyed the par-5 15th from a green-side bunker. "When I went out the door and saw it was windy, I thought I had a chance," Chamblee said, "but Fred is the wrong guy to be chasing. He doesn't seem to have any nerves. It's hard to beat that boy.''
Magee, whose last victory was in Tucson in 1994, didn't make a bogey on the back nine all week. On Sunday he came close to holing a 50-foot eagle putt at the 15th. "I thought, If I can make one of these things, I might give Freddie something to think about," he said, "but he made another birdie and kept lengthening his lead. Then it was a fight for second."
The biggest fight, it turned out, was getting the tournament finished on Sunday. The storm first halted the action at 4:16 p.m. but blew right through, allowing play to resume about 45 minutes later. The second wave of the storm stopped play at 6:28, with Couples having already teed off at the 17th hole. The tournament didn't resume until just after 7 p.m.
Stiff back and all, Couples's first shot after the last delay was a sand wedge that he left within a foot for an easy birdie. His most impressive shot of the day—from a buried lie in the pot bunker left of the 8th green-led to a save. "There were 71 guys who made the cut, and maybe 10 could've got up and down from there," says LaCava. "I heard some guy in the crowd say, 'Good save.' No, it was a great save."
Not that you could tell from Couples's reaction. He was typically nonchalant, bordering on oblivious, which is part of his cool. Last Friday night he and his girlfriend, Thais Bren, finally erased their names from the short list of humans who haven't seen Titanic. The movie was awesome, said Fred, who was surprised that the film began in modern times, with the exploration of the wreckage. "I didn't hear anything about the movie, but I thought the ship sank in 19-something. Then this old lady showed up, and they backed into the story."
Wait a minute, Fred. You had no knowledge of the biggest blockbuster of all time? Maybe so. SportsCenter doesn't air clips, so how was a sportsaholic like Couples to know?
Three fourths of the way through Titanic, Couples felt a migraine coming. He woke up on Saturday with a splitting headache and stayed in bed until noon. He looked more uninterested than ever during his round, yet shot a 67, with a 32 on the back nine, to take a three-stroke lead. He didn't bend over to line up putts—that made him dizzy—and bemoaned the enthusiasm of the fans. "I wish they'd been quieter," Couples said. "My head was pounding."
He felt much better on Sunday. He was still in the scorer's tent when Duval, who had finished two groups earlier, popped in to offer his congratulations. It was a classy gesture of respect, and clearly appreciated by Couples. Mostly, it was kind of cool.