Golf: Couples seeks single purpose

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The Independent Online
FRED COUPLES, who has a notoriously casual approach to his profession, may be forced this year to play more golf and watch less basketball on television. The 33-year-old world No 2 is divorcing his wife, Debbie, and divorces American-style do not, of course, come cheap. 'All the good stuff that has appeared about me in newspapers is true,' Couples said. 'All the bad stuff is false.'

Couples, who was married for 11 years, has joined a top-class field for the Johnnie Walker Classic at the Singapore Island Country Club. 'Being married was fine but not the way we were married,' Couples said. 'She won't be coming to golf tournaments and I won't be watching her play polo. She lives in one house and I live in another. She'll end up with something. I hope it will be settled quickly and we can get on with our lives.'

The extrovert Debbie has been a vociferous and conspicuous supporter of Couples. When he won the Masters at Augusta last April she hugged him on the 18th green; when he missed the cut in the Open at Muirfield she danced on a table at a local night-club.

Couples has played only twice in the last two months and has spent some time in Las Vegas. 'I played a little blackjack,' he said, 'but I sat out the games of baccarat. At dollars 200 ( pounds 140) a hand they were too expensive.' Couples, who finished top of the money list on the US Tour last season with dollars 1,344,000, said that after winning the Masters, his first major championship victory, he felt exhausted.

'I played poorly in tournaments and I didn't really care,' he said. 'I work hard every other day, some people work hard every day. That's why Nick Faldo is such a great player. He went through an unbelievable streak. It's possible golf has never been played like that.'

Faldo, who flew here from the Desert Classic in Dubai, is struggling to recapture that form. Also in the tournament, which has prize- money of pounds 550,000, are Greg Norman, Ian Woosnam and Seve Ballesteros. Twelve months ago, when the sponsors held the championship in Bangkok, Woosnam spent a night in hospital at the end of an intravenous drip. One measure he has taken against the heat and humidity of this tropical island is to have a short back and sides. Somebody said he looked like Gazza. 'I hope my attitude's better,' Woosnam replied.

Woosnam, who is going on to play in the Malaysia Open next week, has switched from a metal to a wooden driver. He has sacrificed length for control. 'I feel I can shape shots better with a wooden club. Last year I was trying too hard and put too much pressure on myself. You've got to accept that you can't win all the time.'

Norman, who finished runner- up to Faldo in the Johnnie Walker World Championship in Jamaica last December, did not mind announcing that he expects to have a particularly successful season. 'I proved in Jamaica that my game is back,' he said. 'I was the only player who believed that Faldo could be beaten. The rest of the field had an awful attitude. I'm hitting it long and straight and I've got my aggression back.'

Par is a parsimonious 70, the rough is severe and the heat will also be a key factor. It was too hot for Jamie Spence, an asthma sufferer, who withdrew from the championship after playing in the pro-am. Spence, who captained England to victory in the Dunhill Cup last year and who is fifth in the Ryder Cup points table, said: 'I'm too tired. It's ridiculous. What are we doing here anyway? It's like staging an Asian tour event at St Andrews in October.'

A notable absentee from the pro-am was Tan Eng Liang, the president of the club. His handicap is 24 and, when told the maxiumum allowed in the competition was 18, he declined to play.

----------------------------------------------------------------- CARD OF THE COURSE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 1st 380 4 10th 412 4 2nd 424 4 11th 207 3 3rd 223 3 12th 402 4 4th 562 5 13th 540 5 5th 190 3 14th 179 3 6th 450 4 15th 459 4 7th 453 4 16th 419 4 8th 360 4 17th 133 3 9th 365 4 18th 484 5 Out: 3,407 35 In: 3,235 35 Total: 6,642 70 -----------------------------------------------------------------