Couples concerned with Woods’ health, not game

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 Wednesday 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.”

PRESIDENTS CUP PLANS: When he agreed to be Presidents Cup
captain again, Fred Couples jokingly sent Tiger Woods a text
telling him to play his 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.

A GREEN JACKET AND BLACK TIE: Masters champions are allowed to
take their green jacket home with them while they hold the title,
and Charl Schwartzel is taking it with him wherever he goes.

”If you get to keep it only for a year and then leave it,
you’ve got to pretty much enjoy it,” Schwartzel said. ”No point
leaving it if you’re only going to see it every two months.”

He brought it with him to the Memorial, even if just to look at
it in the closet.

The last time he wore it in public was at Wentworth last week at
the BMW PGA Championship, when the European Tour had an awards
dinner and asked him to wear his prize.

One problem: It was a black-tie dinner.

”And I’m dressed up in a green jacket,” Schwartzel said.
”Most people thought I was a waiter.”

MICKELSON’S NEW WEAPON: Phil Mickelson is working on a new
2-iron to take to the U.S. Open at Congressional in two weeks.

It’s really not new – he’s had it for about six years. But he
thinks he has it just about right.

”It hadn’t quite worked right until I bent it, tweaked it a
little bit. Now it feels pretty dialed in,” Mickelson said. ”I’ve
been experimenting the last few weeks trying to get the right
2-iron that flies about 255 or so off the tee, which is kind of
what I’m gunning for. I think this one is dialed in just
right.”

In a slight change, Mickelson has decided not to play the St.
Jude Classic the week before the U.S. Open. Instead, he will go to
Congressional next week to get in his practice.

CADDIE CHANGE: In what appears to be a game of musical chairs
with caddies and players, the biggest change is Joe LaCava no
longer on the bag for Fred Couples. Instead, LaCava is working for
Dustin Johnson.

Couples had encouraged him to find another bag, mainly because
Couples was on the less lucrative Champions Tour and not playing
much this year because of a bad back. So when Johnson’s bag became
open, LaCava took it.

”He’s been a great caddie. He’s caddied for a lot of great
players,” Couples said.

Couples said it might be difficult early on for LaCava to get
the right club for Johnson, mostly because Johnson is one of the
longest hitters in golf. He also thinks LaCava will be good at
knowing when to tell Johnson to scale back, and not hit driver.

”Other than that, I have a lot of respect for Joe,” Couples
said. ”I think he’s done a phenomenal job, and I hope he stays
with him a while, because I’m not taking him back.”

They won’t be separated very long. Couples and Johnson are
playing together the first two rounds, along with Nick Watney.