There are any number of remarkable numbers that tell the story of the stunning round Fred Couples played on Sunday at the SAS Championship, but we’ll start with the most important: 60. The World Golf Hall of Famer had never shot a score that low in his 2,172 rounds on the PGA Tour or his 420 previous rounds on the PGA Tour Champions.
With a run of 12 birdies in his final 14 holes at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, N.C., Couples posted his career-best 18-hole score en route to a six-shot rout over Steven Alker, shooting a 20-under 196 for the week. And to think Couples made a double-bogey 6 on the first hole to start the tournament on Friday?
The victory was the 14th of Couples’ senior career, but his first since June 2017, a winless drought that totaled 1,939 days. And it came seemingly out of nowhere; in his seven previous PGA Tour Champions starts in 2022, Couples had had just one top-10 finish (T-2 at the Mitsubishi Electric). And in three previous starts in this tournament, he’d had just one top-10 (fifth in 2011).
Couples, who turned 63 earlier in the month and has spent a career making the game look easy, wrote down nothing higher than a 4 on his Sunday scorecard. Yet rather than any of his 2s or 3s, it was a 4 on the 10th hole that stood out to Couples. After making five straight birdies to finish his front nine and grab the lead, Couples found water off the tee on the 428-yard par 4. His third shot came up just short of the green, 30 feet from the hole, only for him to roll it in for the par save.
“Today was just an unreal day,” said Couples, who became the third oldest player ever to win on the Champions Tour behind Bernhard Langer and Scott Hoch. “The putt on 10, I knew was a huge boost.”
Given his score, it was no surprise Couples had it going with his putter. But he claimed it was his approach game that stood out. “I never hit it like that,” said Couples, whose previous best score was a 61 in the final round of the 2014 Shaw Charity Classic. “Yesterday, I didn’t feel well, and, today on the range … I'm really never hit it like that. Every shot, I hit and went on the golf and did really, really well.”
To call this the most remarkable round in PGA Tour Champions history isn’t overstating things. Kevin Sutherland shot a 59 back in 2014, but it was in the second round of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Classic, and he didn’t even win the tournament. Couples’ 60 was the lowest final-round score by a PGA Tour Champions’ winner in the tour’s 43-year history. He broke his age by three shots. He was trailing by three shots on the fifth tee only to claim the title by six.
“It’s easy to say because we’re standing here, but I think it’s the best round I’ve ever played,” Couples said. “I’ve shot 58 and 59 before, never in a tournament, but for a little bit of money and stuff, and you pay a lot of attention, but today I just was trying to stay two or three ahead of Jerry [Kelly] because I knew I could birdie at any given time.”
And he did it with a late replacement on his bag; Couples texted Griffin Flesch, son of fellow PGA Tour Champions player Steve Flesch, early in the week to see if he could help when his regular caddie, Mark Chaney, was at home with his mother. “I said just get to Raleigh on Tuesday and we'll have a good time, and we did.”
The disappointing part? While the three-event Charles Schwab Cup playoffs begin next week, Couples said this is his last start of 2022. He jumped to 34th in the rankings, easily qualifying for the post-season. But Couples knows his body can only handle so much golf, and despite the incredible day and week in North Carolina, he’s not going to push himself. However, the memory of Sunday will motivate him in 2023.
“My game can come and go. I’m done for the year. [But] my game on the Champions Tour is trending in the right direction.”