36-hole day drives Couples to Buick win

THE LONG WAY HOME

August 08, 1994|By Jack Saylor | Jack Saylor,Knight-Ridder News Service

GRAND BLANC, Mich. -- Easygoing Fred Couples' golfing life looks like it's back on Easy Street.

Absent from the tour for a month to rest his aching back, Couples turned the tables on an old tormentor, overhauled Corey Pavin and won the Buick Open yesterday in an arduous but exciting 36-hole windup.

Couples sneaked within a stroke of the front-running Pavin with his second straight 65 in the morning, then beat him by two

shots with an unrelenting 68 in the afternoon.

The 72-hole total of 270 was 18 under par -- all of which Couples accumulated after an opening 72 -- and earned him a check for $198,000.

Pavin shot 70-71 yesterday and got an $118,800 consolation prize.

"A lot of good things happened in one nine-hour round," said the bedraggled but happy Couples. "It was very exciting and highly emotional for me. A lot of things went through my mind. It's not a surprise to me that I played well, but am I surprised I won? You bet."

The 36-hole finish, which Couples dreaded, was necessary because the opening round was postponed Thursday by rain.

Curtis Strange, Steve Pate and Detroit native Greg Kraft were tied for third at 276.

Ben Crenshaw and Keith Clearwater finished at 277, and former Maryland golf coach Fred Funk, the first-round leader, was among a trio at 278.

The season had started in high gear for the laid-back, long-hitting 34-year-old native of Seattle. His much-publicized domestic travail was behind him. He had moved to a new home in Dallas, new flame ... oops, old back.

Couples finished second in the year's first two events. The second at Los Angeles was by one stroke to Pavin, who also owns a playoff win over Couples in the 1992 Honda Classic.

But in early March after a third-round 67 at Doral in Miami, Couples' back went out. "It felt like it exploded," he said.

He returned 3 1/2 months later for a four-week stretch before the British Open. But the back tightened up. He skipped the British and made his return here.

And on a perfect day for golf, Couples played perfectly -- well, almost.

"My good shots were great. My bad shots were horrible. But I had a lot of openings to shoot through," said Couples, who hit only nine fairways on his final round. "My back feels great, but my legs are tired -- they're killing me."

"I don't think his back is so bad, do you?" Pavin said with a wry smile.

Pavin held the lead until the start of the final round, when Couples birdied the second hole and Pavin bogeyed the third.

"That was a gift," Couples said of his birdie at the 431-yard second hold. "My 7-iron shot flew over the green, and I tried to bump it back on. It would've been 30 feet past the hole, but it hit the stick and went in."

But it wasn't Couples' luck that did Pavin in. Couples rode the wings of eagles to the victory, eagling the 548-yard 13th hole three straight times after lipping out his eagle putt there in the first round.

"Pretty good stroke average for that hole," said Pavin, who birdied it three times.

The tournament settled into a two-man by lunchtime yesterday, so Couples and Pavin lunched together for 20 minutes, said "good luck" and had at it.

"It was an advantage to me to have a good morning round -- that was key," Couples said.

But despite his out-going 38, Pavin kept the heat on, birdieing the 12th to pull within one. He lost a stroke to Couples' eagle at the 13th but stayed close by holing a 6-foot par putt at the 16th and a 6-foot birdie at the 17th.

"I hung in there," he said. "I tried to get some pressure on Freddy, but he shot 11 under for the day -- Freddy played great."

Fred Couples, $198,000 72-65-65-68--270

Corey Pavin, $118,800 66-65-70-71--272

Greg Kraft, $57,200 71-72-67-66--276

Curtis Strange, $57,200 71-70-67-68--276

Steve Pate, $57,200 71-67-69-69--276

Ben Crenshaw, $38,225 72-68-69-68--277

Keith Clearwater, $38,225 71-67-69-70--277

Duffy Waldorf, $31,900 69-67-74-68--278

Tom Lehman, $31,900 71-67-70-70--278

Fred Funk, $31,900 65-70-71-72--278

Nick Faldo, $22,550 70-67-73-69--279

Tom Kite, $22,550 69-68-72-70--279

Steve Elkington, $22,550 71-68-69-71--279

Davis Love III, $22,550 69-67-72-71--279

Dennis Paulson, $22,550 70-71-67-71--279

Tom Purtzer, $22,550 69-71-65-74--279

Peter Jacobsen, $16,500 69-71-71-69--280

Chip Beck, $16,500 70-71-70-69--280

Hal Sutton, $16,500 70-71-69-70--280

David Feherty, $11,917 71-71-70-69--281

Kenny Knox, $11,917 71-72-69-69--281

David Ogrin, $11,917 71-71-71-68--281

Ted Tryba, $11,917 71-70-70-70--281

Gil Morgan, $11,917 73-68-70-70--281

Howard Twitty, $11,917 69-70-68-74--281

Fuzzy Zoeller, $8,635 70-71-71-70--282

Joel Edwards, $8,635 70-73-71-68--282

Mike Reid, $7,006 71-69-73-70--283

John Wilson, $7,006 70-68-73-72--283

Yoshinori Mizumaki, $7,006 69-69-73-72--283

Guy Boros, $7,006 72-68-73-70--283

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