After entering the final round three shots behind 54-hole leader Paul Broadhurst, Fred Couples shot a six-under 66 to win the American Family Insurance Championship by two strokes over Scott Verplank.
Broadhurst started out the final day in strong form and grew his lead to three, but back-to-back bogies on holes five and six signaled his demise.
“I just lost my way a little bit. Started off really well, hit it nicely
the first few holes. A couple of birdies and thought everything was nice. Hit a poor iron into five and just fell out of sorts a little bit,” said the Englishman.
“The swing wasn’t quite in sync, it was a little bit quick, and it’s sometimes difficult to just sort of switch it on, you know. I lost my lead and I just didn’t play well enough today, simple as that.”
Sunday marked the seventh time this season that a 54-hole leader has failed to win the tournament. Broadhurst’s previous two Champions Tour victories were in come-from-behind fashion.
“It’s always harder to lead from the front, no question,” said Broadhurst who shot a 73 to finish in fifth-place.
“It’s always easier to come from behind, always. I’ve done it twice last year, so I know exactly what it’s like. But I’ve sort of led in the past going into the last day and converted, so it’s not something I haven’t done in the past, but just not today.”
(Full Audio of Paul Broadhurst’s post-round presser)
On a day that was characterized by cool and blustery conditions, Couples paid no heed to the difficult weather and earned his 13th career Champions Tour title and second this season.
This year marks his fifth multi-win season since he turned 50 in 2010, and the first since he won twice in 2014. Couples’ appearance in the event marked his first tournament in nearly two months. The layoff was due to a rib injury he suffered earlier this season.
“I can take time off and hit the ball, that’s not really the problem. It’s the scoring part,” said Couples. “And again, I was a little edgy today playing and I felt like the reason being is because I knew I could shoot a good score.”
“But if Paul shot a decent score, no one was really going to catch him. And it played hard. With that wind and the way the course played and you’re leading, 2 Tee-Scripts.com it’s not easy to shoot 68 or 69, and I was lucky enough to make a lot of birdies through the first 11 holes.”
Couples tied the lead with a birdie on the par-4 seventh and took the outright lead for good when he birdied the par-5 ninth to go out in 32.
He then birdied the first two holes on the back nine to take a commanding four-shot lead.
Entering Sunday’s play, Couples had feasted on the back, but had had his struggles on the front side – he was Even on the front and -9 on the back.
“I made a long putt on No. 4, but I had chances and I was playing very well,” said Couples. “The back nine, birdieing 10 and 11 to really put some space.”
“For me, I didn’t know what Broadhurst was doing, but I think on the 13th hole I looked up and I had a three-shot lead. I knew if I just kept hitting the ball well, I figured I could birdie 16 and then someone would have to birdie every hole to beat me. I didn’t birdie 16 and neither did Scott.”
After the birdie on the par-5 eleventh, Couples lost a bit of form coming in. He scrambled for pars on 12 and 16 and did not leave himself any viable birdie opportunities.
Couples mentioned that he had to change his gameplan a bit as he went from chasing the lead to preserving it. (Some really good journalist asked him about it).
“That’s a heck of a question,” said Couples (not to brag). “I was first up on 12 and I hit this iron and I was 20 yards short of the green. That didn’t throw me off much because I didn’t hit a proper shot, but I didn’t hit some horrible — it just was not the correct shot to hit. So, I hit really good shots, but I was trying not to make a mistake on those holes and just have birdie putts with good tee shots, which I did.”
Couples’ inability to extend his lead allowed the door to stay open for Verplank. After birdieing the 11th, Verplank missed a makeable birdie putt on the par-3 12th.
The Oklahoma-native had under 100 yards to the pin on 13 and 15, but hit both approach shots a tad heavy to squander each scoring chance.
The critical point of the tournament came on the par-5 16th hole which was Verplank’s last good chance to put serious heat on Couples.
Couples needed to scramble and made a six-foot putt for par, while Verplank was waiting in the fairway. Verplank could reach the green in two, but hit his fairway wood fat and settled for par.
“I knew that I needed to make birdie there and I had a pretty good yardage. I had a good club. I just was on a downhill lie and I just hit it fat,” said Verplank who’s T-2 finish is the best result of his Champions Tour career.
“It was just a bad shot, and I scrambled around and made a par. But the hole before that, I had a perfect yardage, 85 yards to the hole, and I feel like I ought to be having a chance to make it and I chunked it on the front edge of the green. So I just did too much of that this week to get it done at the very end.”
(Full Audio of Scott Verplank’s post-round presser)
Couples parred the final two holes to secure the two-shot victory.
While his play on Sunday made headlines, Couples credited a shot from Saturday as a source of momentum.
There it is! A big win for Boom Boom!
— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) June 25, 2017
“That birdie putt on 18 yesterday was huge,” said Couples after his round. “I knew that putt would put me in Steve’s group and was looking forward to that pairing today. I can’t say enough nice things about Steve and I think we both really fed off the crowd’s energy out there.”
Tournament host Steve Stricker, who was paired with Couples, could never get anything going during Sunday’s final round. He finished well to post -12 and a T-3 finish, but his round was characterized by missed opportunities.
The Wisconsin-native missed three eagle putts all within 18-feet which could have had his name higher on the leaderboard during the closing stretch of holes.
“You know, really never made a putt to speak of. Made one, good
saving putt at 17,” said Stricker. “Kind of squirrely the first five or six, seven holes. On this back side I thought I hit it pretty well. Had three eagle putts today, legitimate makeable ones that I ran over the edge, all three of them.”
“It was tough for me getting the ball in the hole today. It was one of those days where you’re trying to press, you’re trying to catch him and that makes it harder. It’s harder to make putts when you have to and that’s kind of where I felt like I was at today, I had to make them and I just didn’t.”
— The Otter Room (@otterroom) June 25, 2017
After a grueling stretch that included a 36-hole U.S. Open qualified, playing in the Open, and playing and taking on hosting duties this week, Stricker conceded that fatigue was a factor.
“I’m tired, I’m tired,” said Stricker who was thanked and congratulated by caddies and players alike after the round for putting on the tournament. “This is six out of seven weeks playing, and the last two have been full of excitement and pressure. It’s been great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m ready for a little time off and get away from the game a little bit and then come back again, recharge and refresh.”
Couples’ 66 tied the low round of the day with Tommy Armour III, David Frost, and Fran Quinn.
Stricker joked with Couples walking up 18 that his victory meant he would have to come back next year. Couples said that he’s excited to comeback and gave effusive praise to the course and the entire championship.
“Even if I didn’t win, if I shot 69 today and Scott Verplank won, I would be back,” said Couples. “It’s a very good course for me. I can’t speak for the other 80 guys that play, but I really like the course and that has a lot to do with it. And of course it’s like we don’t play in front of a lot of people, but you have a ton of people here. It’s really a nice environment.”
Check out Couples’ press conference below:
— The Otter Room (@otterroom) June 25, 2017