Couples strikes it rich in the Gulf

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Fred Couples, one of the big six who were handsomely rewarded for playing in the Persian Gulf, earned a golden handshake from from one of the ruling sheikhs when he won the Dubai Desert Classic yesterday. Twelve months ago the American missed the halfwaycut at the Emirates course and was reduced to commentating on the event for television. "I felt bad about it," he said. "It was embarrassing."

Couples had a date to keep in the desert and he arrived here earlier than anybody to atone for his failure last year. Couples, who began the final round level with Colin Montgomerie at 14 under par, finished three in front of the Scotsman. On the regularUS Tour he won $600,000 (£390,000) up to October and $1m (£650,000) in November alone. He needs to keep busy. Divorced from his wife Debbie, Freddie is reputed to be paying her $50,000 a month in alimony.

Couples, who won £75,000, shot 66 and although that score was bettered on the day, it could not be matched by those in contention. Couples's aggregate was 20 under par and that equalled the record set by Ernie Els last year. One of the keys to his victory was the way he played the par fives - 15 under par for the four rounds.

Montgomerie kept in step with Couples until the ninth where there was a two-stroke swing. Whereas Montgomerie missed the green, Couples - they were playing together for the fourth successive day - hit a six iron 160 yards to within four feet of the flag and the result was a birdie three. Monty chipped seven feet past the hole and missed the putt to take a bogey five, his first and last of the day.

Couples also had a birdie at the 12th, where he hit a three iron 192 yards, again to four feet. The ninth and 12th are probably the hardest holes on the course and only one other player, Stephen Ames, managed to birdie them. "To beat Freddie I would haveto have gone some," Monty said. "I thought that a 67 would have been good enough but I was wrong. I've got to be happy with second place."

He had to roll in a 12-foot birdie putt at the last to keep second place and with it £50,000. Nick Price, Michael Campbell, a 25-year-old Maori, and Wayne Riley, had got to 16 under and had overhauled Greg Norman and Els. The 35-year-old Couples - this was the 16th victory of his career - is acknowledged as a King Edward in the field of couch potatoes.

"He is ultra laid back," Monty said. "It was very relaxing to play with him. I like his attitude to the game. He just hits it, finds it and hits it again. He's a one off. I'm a bit more fiery than he is." Because Couples generates so much club-head speed, he is able to hit it further than most and Montgomerie discovered that to his cost. "I'm an above average driver," Monty said, "but he was usually 15 yards past me. It gave him a tremendous advantage."

Couples, who won the Masters at Augusta in 1992, his only triumph in the majors, said: "I have a lazy, slow swing but I hit the ball harder on impact than Monty. It was a big deal to go out and beat Price, Norman, Monty and Els. Whether it's LA or Dubai I want to win." This week the big six, including Bernhard Langer, renew rivalry in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Manila, where they will be joined by Seve Ballesteros. Montgomerie intends to take February off and he said: "It's important for me to make the Ryder Cup team on merit and that's another 50,000 points. We all know that with Nick Faldo playing in America he will probably have to be picked."

Wayne Westner and Samson Gimson were the hottest two ball, scoring 64 and 66 respectively. The Emirates course has been good to Westner, who won here in 1993. He finished 13 under and also pocketed £18,000 for a first-round hole in one. Gimson, a Singaporean and the sixth of nine children, is a former caddie. He treasured his cheque for £7,535.

Norman and Els would have given anything for Gimson's round. Neither could get in a serious blow and were passed by Campbell and Riley. Campbell, 25, who gained his card after a couple of minor victories on the Challenge Tour last season, will be based in Tooting Bec, where he has friends. He had a spectacular finish with an eagle three at the 18th and his reward of £23,243 will help considerably towards paying his keep.

Details from dubai DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC (Emirates Club) Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 268 F Couples (US) 65 69 68 66. 271 C Montgomerie 68 63 71 69. 272 M Campbell (NZ) 69 71 65 67; W Riley (Aus) 67 71 67 67; N Price (Zimb) 66 69 69 68.273 G Norman (Aus) 64 70 69 70 . 274 E Els (SA) 68 68 67 71. 275 W Westner (SA) 71 70 70 64, R Burns 67 69 70 69, R Goosen (SA) 69 68 68 70. 277 S Gimson (Sing) 69 72 70 66, C Rocca (It) 70 69 71 67, H Clark 68 67 72 70, P Fulke (Swe) 70 66 68 73. 278 EO'Conn ell 67 70 72 69. 279 S Ames (Trin) 70 72 70 67; B Langer (Ger) 70 68 73 68; P Curry 69 70 72 68; S Richardson 69 69 71 70; A Cejka (Ger) 69 71 69 70; S Cage 68 68 70 73. 280 P McGinley 72 68 72 68. 281 S Tinning (Den) 67 70 74 70; D Gilford 70 7071 70; A Sherborne 73 67 71 70; P Eales 71 70 69 71; J Sandelin (Swe) 72 69 68 72; J Haeggman (Swe) 73 70 65 73; S Struver (Ger) 70 70 67 74. 282 P Walton 69 69 74 70;, M Mouland 72 68 72 70; J Townsend (US) 71 69 70 72; M Besanceney (Fr) 69 73 68 72. 283 M A M artin (Sp) 73 70 71 69, M James 71 67 74 71; D Clarke 71 68 73 71; R McFarlane 71 71 69 72; P Linhart (Sp) 71 67 72 73.

EUROPEAN RYDER CUP STANDINGS (1pt for every £1 won): 1 S Ballesteros (Sp) 309,202pts; 2 B Langer (Ger) 198,106; 3 C Montgomerie 181,395; 4 J M Olazabal (Sp) 156,577; 5 I Woosnam 148,222; 6 D Gilford 139,625; 7 P-U Johansson (Swe) 126,293; 8 M A Jimenez (Sp) 112,533; 9 C Rocca (It) 102,933; 10 P Fulke (Swe) 101,991; 11 S Torrance 93,059; 12 B Lane 92,831; 13 N Faldo 83,157; 14 K Eriksson (Swe) 74,891; 15 R Claydon 69,038; 16 H Clark 62,041; 17 S Struver (Ger) 59,351; 18 D Clarke 57,926; 19 J Rivero (Sp) 56,452; 20 M A Martin (Sp) 55,576.