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Fred Couples felt fine, until he tried to hit balls a few days ago. (Photo: Getty Images)
Fred Couples felt fine, until he tried to hit balls a few days ago. (Photo: Getty Images)

Back relapse gives Couples major doubts for the Open

A return of his chronic back problem last week at the Scottish Open has Fred Couples wondering if he'll be able to play at Royal Liverpool this week. He is looking to use the Open as a springboard back onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

HOYLAKE, England (PA) -- A return of the back problem that has dogged his career forced Fred Couples out of the Barclays Scottish Open last Thursday and makes him doubtful for this week's Open Championship.

"I couldn't have even walked down the first fairway, let alone play," said the 46-year-old American after being seen by a doctor at Loch Lomond. "Every time I get up I feel like I'm going to fall down. It's not very good."

Just minutes after saying on the eve of the Scottish Open that his back was "doing well," Couples went to warm up for a pro-am -- and got no further than hitting two balls.

"Usually the problem comes when I lift something or hit a shot. This time I don't know what happened," he said. "I felt nothing hitting the first shot, but then it felt a little weird and after one more that was it.

"I've not had it for a while, not since the Masters last year when I struggled. Afterwards I started using a brace and it's been pretty good," he added. "I'll try to watch a little golf and let the European tour physios guys take a look. But from past experience if anybody goes poking around it gets inflamed, so I'll just see how it is first."

The Open is a big week for Couples -- who tied for third last year at St. Andrews and in the Masters in April -- not just because it is a major, but also because it is one of his last chances to boost his hopes of a Ryder Cup recall after an absence of nine years.

He did not play the Open in 2002 and 2004 because of back problems, but was healthy enough to earn a spot on the American Presidents Cup side last season -- he had not played in that since 1998 -- and had a crucial win over Vijay Singh in the last-day singles.

He is hoping his big-event experience at could earn him a wild card from U.S. Captain Tom Lehman if he fails to climb into the top 10, especially with several inexperienced players currently occupying automatic positions in the United States standings.

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