Fred Couples believes you have to be good to be lucky. He also believes you have to be lucky to be good.
Couples was all of that in winning the Buick Open by two strokes over Corey Pavin. It's the only way to explain how he could eagle the same hole three straight times after just lipping out the first time."Am I surprised that I won? You bet," Couples said after his triumph Sunday at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club. "This is a good course for me to play. I enjoy the course. But I'm still surprised."
The win capped a long comeback for Couples, who missed nearly four months on the tour after suffering a back injury in March.
"It's a weird game," Couples said. "I wasn't looking forward to playing 36 holes. But after I was only one shot out after the morning round, I was definitely looking forward to it.
"My back's fine. But after four or five holes this afternoon, my legs really hurt. It's just bah-boom, bah-boom. And I'm very tired."
Curtis Strange, Steve Pate and Greg Kraft were tied for third at 276. Ben Crenshaw and Keith Clearwater finished at 277.
Couples, playing in only his eighth tournament of the season, had been afraid his back would prevent him from completing the 36 remaining holes in a single day. The marathon finish was made necessary by rain that pushed the opening round back from Thursday to Friday.
Couples was well back in the pack, at even-par 72 after the first round. But he followed with 65-65-68 for an 18-under 270 total. During that first round, he lipped out a 35-foot eagle putt on No. 13, a 548-yard par 5. But over the next three rounds - including two on Sunday - Couples sank putts of 30, 20 and 12 feet on the hole.
"It sounds easy, I know, but I figured Corey was going to birdie at least two of the three holes in that stretch," said Couples, who earned $198,000 of the $1.1 million purse. "So it was really important for me to be able to get those eagles. One eagle equals two birdies, right?"
Sounds pretty good, Fred.
Still, Pavin didn't go quietly. Playing in the final threesome, right behind Couples, Pavin birdied the 17th to narrow the gap to one stroke. But only for a moment.
Couples closed out his first victory of the season - and the 11th of his career - with a birdie on the final hole, hitting his 7-iron approach less than two feet from the pin.
This Buick Open will also be remembered for Paul Azinger's return to golf after a nine-month battle with cancer. Azinger shot 76-70 and missed the cut, but his fighting spirit and good humor left a lasting impression on the large galleries that followed him around Warwick Hills.
The golfers this week will be in Tulsa, Okla., where Azinger will attempt to defend his PGA Championship title starting Thursday. It is the season's last major championship of the season.
It also will be a another big test in the comeback of Couples.
* * *
In Concord, Mass., Jim Albus made clutch birdie putts on the 52nd and 53rd holes to withstand challenges by Raymond Floyd and Bob Brue and win the $700,000 Bank of Boston Senior PGA Classic by two strokes.
Albus earned his second victory of the year with a 2-under-par 70 that gave him a 54-hole total of 203, 13 under par.
* * *
In Stratton Mountain, Vt., Carolyn Hill won the McCall's LPGA Classic by three strokes for her first victory in 14 years on the LPGA Tour.
Hill closed with a 3-under-par 69 for a 275 total to beat Nancy Ramsbottom.