Couples more concerned with Woods' health than his ailing game

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Speaking from his own experience, Fred Couples believes that Tiger Woods' left knee poses his biggest obstacle in returning to his previous form.
By
Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

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Fred Couples says the only thing that will keep Tiger Woods’ from dominating again and breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record in the major is his knee.

“At Tiger’s age, I’m more concerned about his body than his game,” Couples said at the Memorial. “His game will come back. But it’s hard to come back when you’ve got knee problems and hip problems and Achilles problems and all that stuff.”

Couples knows what it’s like to play injured.

The former Masters champion and No. 1 player in golf first began suffering from back pain in 1994, and it has bothered him ever since. Even now, Couples is aching so much that after the Memorial, he might not play again until the U.S. Senior Open at the end of July.

But he says a left knee, especially one that’s been through four surgeries, is much different.

“I couldn’t imagine not being able to use my left knee to play golf,” Couples said. “I think it’s basically impossible to do what you used to do. And in golf, that’s the toughest thing.”

Couples said it can be tough to try to reclaim the No. 1 position -- in golf or any other sport -- because it can be a mental drain. He figures Woods is the only player who is strong enough between the ears to handle that.

“For him, that won’t be the problem. It’ll be this knee issue,” Couples said. “I don’t think he swings violent at it. I don’t think he does anything different than Charl Schwartzel when they swing. I just think his knee is a little tender and he’s got to get it right so he can come out and start to play every day feeling good.”

When he agreed to be Presidents Cup captain again, Couples jokingly sent Woods a text telling him to play is way onto the team so he won’t have to be a pick.

Given the fact Woods has missed two tournaments already with left leg issues, and had to withdraw from another after nine holes, it might not be a joke. Couples isn’t worried, though. He figures if Woods isn’t good enough to make the team in September, or doesn’t feel healthy enough to play the matches in Australia in November, he’ll let Couples know.

“If he’s not ready to play, he’ll be the one to tell me, ‘Don’t waste your pick on me,”’ Couples said. “I don’t even know how much he’ll play, but he doesn’t have to prove a lot to any captain.”

Couples will be playing the week before the Presidents Cup at the Australian Open, and he said his two captain’s picks also will be in Sydney with him. Doesn’t that mean Woods will have to play the Australian Open if he’s a pick?

“Well, if he wants to play, yeah,” Couples said. “If I pick two people and the other guy is there, he should be there.”

There’s some wiggle room there, however.

Woods’ camp was irritated when the Australian Masters, where he played the last two years, had its date on the schedule taken away and given to the Australian Open. The Aussie Masters is run by IMG, however. Woods’ agent is no longer with IMG, and odds are Woods won’t be with the agency much longer.

Couples said all he wants is for his players to be competing somewhere before the Presidents Cup. That could be the Singapore Open (where Phil Mickelson will play) or another event in the region.