Golf: Open Championship Countdown: Couples concentrates on overcoming distractions

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The Independent Online
WE MAY have been witnessing a grand example of kidology yesterday, but it was difficult to approach Fred Couples' odds of 16-1 to win the Open Championship with anything but a jaundiced eye. Most golfers talk up their chances, his words dragged along at levels a diver would find forbidding.

Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, has a good record in the Open. He describes it as his favourite tournament and in the last four occasions has twice finished in the top eight, which, given his win in the Honda Classic in March, ought to place him among the contenders at Royal St George's. Not a bit of it. 'I don't see myself against Nick Price, Nick Faldo or Payne Stewart head to head,' he said.

'I can't seem to put four rounds together. I play 16 or 17 holes OK and then I get a double-bogey and you can't do that. Even if I was fortunate to play well the first two days I think it would be difficult for me Saturday and Sunday.'

Couples has been cut adrift from his confidence by a pending divorce from his wife, Debbie, that has been messy and expensive. At Muirfield this time last year she played while he worked, Mrs giving an impromptu dance in a bar while Mr jettisoned strokes almost as quickly as she did her inhibitions. His press conference on missing the cut amounted to 'I've got a car waiting' and his message to his wife must have been similarly abrupt, if not as precise, because she got left behind.

Yesterday, Couples was more forthcoming about the distractions surrounding the split. 'It took my motivation away,' he said. 'Too many people were interested in something I didn't want to talk about and a lot of times I stayed away from everyone and anyone. January, February and March there were some bizarre things going on. The weirdest of all was winning the Honda Open.'

Normally Couples plays a huge majority of his golf in the first half of the year - his estimate is 80 per cent - but this time he has hardly hit a ball in competition which will make him either fresh or rusty.

Bernhard Langer is not running the risk of being over-golfed either. The German succeeded Couples as the Masters champion in April and has since won the British PGA, but has been afflicted by a pain in the neck that helped curtail his appearance in the US Open to two rounds and stopped him practising at all last week. Normally he spends between six and 11 hours on the course.

The injury is still troubling Langer, which is a serious handicap for a man who has a near-perfect pedigree over the course and distance at Sandwich - in 1981 he was the runner-up and last time, eight years ago, he was third behind Sandy Lyle.

Langer's week has had a disjointed look to it altogether. Someone crashed into his car while he was practising on Sunday and he was also less than happy that someone had written he is about to retire to become a missionary. 'I have been misquoted,' he said. 'I said it's something I might do when I finish my career, but I still have another 10 to 15 good years of golf ahead of me.' In the meantime he addressed an audience at Dover Castle last night about his beliefs.

If Lee Janzen had a belief that Royal St George's was anything but one of Britain's more proper golfing establishments he had it dispelled when he was drinking in the club bar. The American wears his cap with the same sort of devotion the shorn Samson had for his hair, but he was forced to remove it when a steward reminded him of club regualtions.

'I was just sitting there when this guy told me to take it off,' he said. 'I'm a member at Lake Nona in Florida where they also don't allow caps so it wasn't a problem. If I ever have a club of my own, I'll make my own rules.'

At a club that does not allow women members, he had learned that every hat and everyone has its place. Even the US Open champion.