Couples on Northern Trust: 'My favorite tournament'

Fred Couples will play with Jordan Spieth and Webb Simpson on Thursday at the Northern Trust Open.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – It seems only fitting that Fred Couples has a 7:11 a.m. date with Riviera Country Club this Friday on Valentine’s Day. His love affair with the course and the Northern Trust Open, where he won in 1990 and 1992, continues for a 32nd time thanks to a sponsors invite.

“This is my favorite tournament,” he repeated over and over.

For Couples, his annual trip to Riviera is one of life’s small pleasures. Couples wouldn’t say how much longer he would keep playing but he can already imagine a day when he would shift into a ceremonial role. In fact, Couples has become honorary chairman of the Los Angeles Legends Club, a group of local civic and corporate leaders who promote the tournament. Couples described his job as trying to attract a more star-studded field to the tournament.

“I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t like this course,” he said.

Couples said he asked players if they planned on playing this year and if they said no, he waited two months and asked again. What about his good friend Tiger Woods, who hasn’t played at Riviera since 2006?

“Well, some day,” he said, “He would be a guy that I think could maybe come here, but you know, that’s a different thing.”

Boom Boom at Riviera? That’s same-old, same-old. He immediately grasped the genius of the George Thomas design. The Couples bouquet of roses here includes a tournament-record 9-under 62 when he won in 1990. It seems his achy back is suddenly rejuvenated whenever he plays in Tinseltown.

“Like Augusta, he just loves it here,” said Davis Love III. “He’s motivated here and wants to play well. It’s really that simple.”

Couples, the two-time Presidents Cup captain, is paired for the first two rounds with a couple of his young Presidents Cup stalwarts in 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and 28-year-old Webb Simpson. Couples’ plan? To show the younger generation first-hand that he could really play as well as the history books say he did.

“My goal is to try to hang with these guys,” Couples said.

Hanging, Couples defined as a top-30 finish. He’s made a bet with a friend that he can do better than that. He’s 54 now and the Champions Tour is where he practices his trade. Once upon a time, he used to play a 2-iron or 3-iron as far left as he could on Riviera's devilish par-4 10th hole and tell caddie Joe LaCava to “Put the three (birdie) on the scorecard,” he recalled. “That’s not being cocky. Now, I would take a four and run to the next hole.”

But don’t let Couples fool you with such talk. He can still poke a majestic drive, knock his irons stiff and hole a few putts. While the greens may be a little quicker than on the Champions Tour, don’t be surprised if he’s in the thick of it on Sunday as he was when he finished T-3 in 2009 and T-7 in 2011. Parse through the usual Couples doubletalk and it’s clear that Riviera is still his sweetheart.

Said Couples: “I’d like to worry about winning if I really play well.”

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