Babineau: Hall takes it easy with latest honoree

Fred Couples will join the Hall of Fame.

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ATLANTA – The World Golf Hall of Fame just got a little more laid-back. Fred Couples, a 15-time PGA Tour winner and the 1992 Masters champion, was elected via the PGA Tour ballot. Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who last week phoned Couples with the news, made the announcement Wednesday afternoon at East Lake Golf Club, home of this week’s Tour Championship.

“What a great day for me,” Couples, 52, said via teleconference from Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. “I don’t consider myself to be a great player, but I’m a good player. For everyone who voted, I appreciate it.”

In addition to his ’92 Masters triumph, Couples includes two Players Championship victories (1984 and ’96) among his wins. He played on five Ryder Cup and four Presidents Cup teams and has won eight times on the Champions Tour. In 1992 he became the first American player to rise to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“Fred Couples is one of those unique players whose talent and accomplishments are Hall-of-Fame caliber, as are his personality and popularity,” Finchem said.

Couples collected 51 percent of the vote from a panel that includes golf journalists, historians and golf dignitaries. Election on the PGA Tour ballot requires 65 percent of returned votes. However, in the event that no candidate receives at least 65 percent, the nominee receiving the most votes with at least 50 percent is elected.

Ken Venturi and Davis Love III were named on 38 percent of the ballots, followed by Mark O’Meara (36) and the late Tony Lema (28). Results from the Hall of Fame’s International, Lifetime Achievement and Veterans categories will be announced at a later date.

Couples will be inducted along with the 2013 class at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla., on May 6, the Monday of Players Championship week.

• • •

Grading the system: A case could be made that this, the sixth edition of the FedEx Cup playoffs, will be the most exciting, what with Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson among the five players who could win the overall title with a victory in the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club.

The points formula continues to evolve, and most players have gone on record as saying the system to declare a winner has improved. But is it perfect? Most agree that it’s not, noting that a player could win the first three FedEx Cup playoff events, finish second at the Tour Championship, and possibly not win the cup.

“I think the reason they changed it to where it is now, and this is what I was told, it would be very similar to what the (New England) Patriots went through (in 2007),” said Tiger Woods. “You sweep the regular season, you sweep the playoffs, but you don’t win the Super Bowl, hence you don’t win the whole thing. You could literally win every tournament the entire year and finish second here and you don’t win. That’s kind of the premise about it.”

Added Luke Donald, “It’s very hard to get the system perfect for everyone. There was a situation a few years ago where Vijay (in 2008) won so many (points) that it made this event inconsequential.”

Points were reset following the BMW Championship so that every player in the 30-man field has a chance to win the FedEx title. A year ago, Bill Haas started the Tour Championship 25th and won.

It wasn’t lost on Rory McIlroy, a winner of two 2012 playoff events, that in years past, using the systems that were in place then, he already would have sewn up the championship and its $10 million bonus.

“I guess I have Vijay to thank for that,” McIlroy said.

• • •

Tour numbers: In summarizing the 2012 PGA Tour season on Wednesday, Finchem had all good news to report. Some numbers he shared:

• Weekend television ratings are up 31 percent over last season; ratings on Thursdays-Fridays on Golf Channel were up 14 percent.

• Through the BMW, more than 169 million Americans have tuned in to some sort of PGA Tour programming. When they have tuned in, they’ve stayed, on average, 19 percent longer than in 2011.

• Reports estimate that as much as 65 percent of the TV audience follows the telecast online at the same time.

• In the first three weeks of the playoffs, 56 million viewers have tuned in, a 9 percent increase over last season.

• On the digital side, PGATour.com has been averaging a record 800,000-plus unique viewers per day during the playoff events; on Sunday of the BMW, there were more than 1 million unique users who visited the site.

• Finchem also said off-camera, after his conference, that overall revenues at the PGA Tour were up from a year ago. “Five percent?” he was asked. Replied Finchem, pausing for a moment, “It’ll be in the annual report.”

• • •

Head of his class: At age 22, John Huh, who captured the Mayakoba Golf Classic in February, is the fifth-youngest player in history to earn a starting spot in the Tour Championship. (The youngest was Tiger Woods, who qualified in 1996 at 20 years, 9 months.) Eleven rookies made it to the playoffs, and Huh is the only one to qualify for this week’s field. He will start the event seeded 26th among the 30 competitors.

Not bad for a kid who started his season with a goal to just get to a weekend at a Tour event.

“This time of year last year I was in Korea,” Huh said. “I was playing a tournament and just watching Bill Haas, the shot, hitting it on 17 (in the playoff) from the water hazard. . . . I feel lucky to be here as a rookie. I hadn’t really thought about it until today.”

Huh vows to enjoy himself a little more next season on Tour. This year he kept his head down and was all business.

“I’m probably going to see sights more and hang out with friends and see different people,” he said. “But right now it’s stayed (just) as the beginning of the year. Just practice, go back to the hotel, watch TV, eat nice food and that’s it.”

• • •

Short shots: In the final round of any playoffs, be it the Stanley Cup, Super Bowl or World Series, the teams that make it to the end usually boast a mix of youth and experience. This week’s Tour Championship field features eight players in their 20s, 17 players in their 30s and five fortysomethings. Huh is the youngest. The oldest: Steve Stricker, who is 45 years, 7 months, or more than 23 years older than Huh. . . . Maybe the adage is true, that winning really isn’t everything. Thirty-two players won on the PGA Tour in 2012, and Tour Championship participants Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk, Bo Van Pelt, Robert Garrigus, Adam Scott, Ryan Moore and John Senden are not among them. Oosthuizen, sixth in FedEx Cup playoff points coming into the Tour Championship, actually could win the FedEx Cup without winning on the PGA Tour in 2012. Though Van Pelt didn’t win, he was consistently in the hunt with nine top 10s, tying Rory McIlroy in that category. . . . Westwood arrived at East Lake riding a streak of 176 holes without a three-putt. Closest to him? Mickelson, with 148. . . . How good is the field at East Lake? The champion will receive 62 Official World Golf Ranking points, most for a Tour Championship winner since 2004.

Alex Miceli contributed

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