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There are certain images on a golf course that simply fit, like Fred Couples driving a golf cart with one hand, or Fred Couples playing golf without socks, or Fred Couples playing in shoes with soles the color of the Caribbean Sea. Minutes after winning his third straight Champions tour start with an 11-birdie, one-bogey, course-record 62 at the Cap Cana Championship, Couples was offering a few more glimpses of his life at 50. He was sitting in a wicker chair in the Punta Espada clubhouse, his shirttail out, sipping a Sprite. His hair was messy, but his mind was right.
"Augusta is one I still think I can win," Couples said.
To see Couples devour Cap Cana last week was to believe him. The newly minted Champions tour member, who will compete at the PGA Tour's Shell Houston Open this week and the Masters the next, played Punta Espada's four par-5s in 12 under during his two-shot win over Corey Pavin.
In becoming the first Champions tour player to win three of his first four starts, Couples clearly has maintained most of the qualities that served him well on the regular Tour. His length is only accentuated on shorter, gentler senior setups, plus his belly putter has been behaving. Get Couples comfortable, and the birdies flow.
"I feel like I fit right in," Couples says. "I know 95 percent of the guys out here. But the enjoyment is in playing good golf. I shot 64 in the last round to lose to Tom Watson, and I've shot 63, 65 and 62 to win. Personally, I've never really played like this. I've hit the ball really well, and I'm making a lot of putts."
It could be that senior golf simply better suits some players, including Freddy, with its 54-hole events, old friends, no cuts and new money. Nick Price puts the difference between the PGA Tour and Champions tour this way: "That was pressure. This is fun."
With light breezes and great scoring conditions, the quality of the golf was sterling, notably the back and forth between Couples and Pavin over the weekend. (Pavin's course-record 63 on Saturday held for 24 hours.) If Couples's power remains awesome, seeing Pavin counterpunch has its own appeal. Low fading darts with the driver, knee-high fairway wood layups, big-divot wedges. Despite his responsibilities as captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, the 50-year-old Pavin isn't going quietly into his Champions tour career, either. "When I'm at a tournament, I'm playing," Pavin says. "I'm not out here to walk around the course and look at the trees."
Hitting first into greens on Sunday and forced to lay up on the par-5s, Pavin still found ways to get his ball into the hole quickly—a 35-footer for birdie at the 2nd and a hole-out from off the green for eagle at the 6th. Couples, meanwhile, was hitting towering drives, moving the ball in both directions and making all the big putts. "You can outdrive [Pavin] by 30, 40 or 50 yards," Couples says, "but then he does stuff."
As well as Couples is playing, he's curious about how his game will translate over the next two weeks. "If I get comfortable and start to putt out there like I do here, I can still play with those guys," he says. Comfort is the reason Couples wears his golf shoes without socks, a look that was turning heads nearly as much as his swing. The insoles are soft and he switches them out every few days. "They're like Wimbledon tennis shoes with little nubbies," Couples says.
Try this for a look: Fifty-year-old man, green jacket, no socks.