GOLF:Travel broadens the bank balance for Couples

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The Independent Online
In terms of the Ryder Cup, it might be a good thing if Fred Couples moved to Europe on a permanent basis and changed citizenship. The American, on two weeks' leave from the US Tour, yesterday coupled a victory in the Johnnie Walker Classic with hi s triumph in the Dubai Desert Classic a week ago.

Apart from having his pockets lined with bundles of dollars in appearance money, Couples has amassed around 375,000 dirhams (£75,000) and around 3,787,000 pesos (£100,000) in the first two tournaments of the European Tour. Thus he is a clear leader in the Order of Merit (Europe, that is), and Bernard Gallacher, who will captain Europe in the Ryder Cup in Rochester, New York, in September, should rifle through the files of Somerset House to see if Couples has a hint of British ancestry.

Nick Price, the Open champion, is not far behind Couples in the Order of Merit. Price, joint third in Dubai, was second yesterday. Couples finished with 71 for an aggregate of 11 under par, two strokes in front of Price, three in front of Robert Allenby and four in front of Andrew Coltart, Michael Campbell and Greg Norman. Colin Montgomerie, runner-up to Couples in Dubai, could not wait to get helicoptered out of the Orchard Golf and Country Club here after losing ground with a 74 that left him six strokes off the lead.

If Gallacher was the manager of a United Kingdom football team, he would be able to claim Price (Welsh mother), Allenby (Yorkshire father) and Campbell (Scottish great-great-great grandfather). Campbell, a 25- year-old Maori from Wellington, drew level with Couples in the final round after the first two holes. The New Zealander hit his approach shot at the first to within inches of the flag for a birdie and at the second, he rolled in a putt from around 65 feet for an eagle three.

Had the ball not hit the flagstick it would probably have disappeared off the green. In the space of those two holes, Campbell not only caught Couples but took four strokes off Big Monty. Campbell could not sustain such brilliance/luck and at the eighth he had a triple-bogey seven, courtesy of finding a lake followed by three putts.

Couples, so laid back he gives the impression he could be playing golf from a deckchair on its seventh notch, bided his time. He had only two birdies, at the second and the 16th, and they were invaluable. "It was an ugly round of golf," Couples said. Nevertheless, by the time he hit a three-iron to eight feet from the hole at the 206-yard 16th, he was clear of the field.

Couples was second in this championship to Norman at the Blue Canyon Country Club in Phuket, Thailand, 12 months ago, after missing the half-way cut in Dubai. His atonement on both counts is complete. You might think that Couples (played two, won two) would be keen to ride his luck on the US Tour this week. Not so. Freddie, who would stare at ceilings had television not been invented, is taking three weeks off. Perhaps the Madeira Island Open, which starts on Thursday, will offer him appearance money.

Couples, probably more than any other American since Neil Armstrong, is prepared to travel outside the orbit of the US because he is popular, and it is a rewarding experience for him in more ways than one. "The crowds were unbelievable and it seemed like80 per cent of them were cheering for me," Couples said. "When you're in a different country, it's a really nice feeling to know the people are pulling for you.''

Price, No 1 in the world rankings, and Norman, No 2 (not that either of them pays much attention to the system), flew from Dubai to the Philippines in their private jets. They did not offer Couples a lift. Still, Freddie had the last laugh. He went from seventh to fourth in the world table, leapfrogging above Ernie Els, Jose-Maria Olazabal and Bernhard Langer.

Couples and the other superstars here leapfrogged above the notorious traffic jams by helicopter. He did not play in the Open Championship, won by Price, at Turnberry last July but will be at St Andrews this summer. To circumnavigate the Open traffic, the Royal and Ancient may have to upstage Johnnie Walker and transport its star players into Fife by nuclear submarine from Rosyth.

Scores, and more golf, Sporting Digest, page 28

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