Originally created 05/17/98

Couples surges to Nelson lead

IRVING, Texas -- Fred Couples has always moved through golf with breathtaking ease and a fluid swing that is the envy of many. Now adversity has given him a peace that lifted him to the lead at the GTE Byron Nelson Classic.

"Freddy didn't seem like himself on the first tee," said Hal Sutton, who was at 11-under-par 199 after 54 holes, three strokes behind Couples and two in back of Harrison Frazar after Saturday's third round.

"He is usually so loose and talking but he was off by himself," Sutton said.

Whatever was churning inside Couples was making it look like this was certainly not his day at the Four Seasons Resort.

"I didn't miss a shot on the range, but my mind just kind of stopped," Couples said. "I didn't bring it from the range to the tee."

Couples has had many things on his mind in the last year. There was the death on Thanksgiving day of his father, Tom, and then the breast cancer of his girlfriend, Thais Bren.

"It's given me a kind of peace," Couples said. "I feel comfortable with my father. He had a long life and I realize how lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing. And I have the best girl in the world."

Maybe it was those thoughts that helped him turn his day around.

Couples made bogeys on two of the first four holes and appeared to be losing contact with the field.

"Then I made a putt and `Pop!' I started hitting the ball better," he said.

And Couples took advantage of those good shots by making virtually every makeable birdie putt he had, playing the final 14 holes nine under par as he shot a 63, including a 29 on the back nine.

"It wasn't a great round," Couples said. "But when I hit a good shot I made the putt."

The longest of those putts was a 40-footer for birdie on No. 17. On the previous hole he hit a 3-iron from 215 yards to 15 feet and made the eagle putt.

Couples, who finished second to Mark O'Meara by one stroke at Augusta National last month despite a double bogey on the 13th hole, seemed to reach out and pull his two playing partners into whatever zone he stumbled into.

Couples, Frazar and Sutton -- the top three names on the leaderboard -- played in the same threesome.

"I just kind of got caught in a whirlwind out there," Sutton said after making four birdies and two bogeys. "All three of us just played great."

Frazar, a 26-year-old who played his high school golf in the Dallas area, played a steady round, shooting 33 on both nines.

"What a great feeling to come out in front of your hometown and play with Hal Sutton and Fred Couples," Frazar said. "They were such fine people to play with."

And Frazar showed them some fine golf. He birdied three holes in a row beginning on No. 5 and closed with two birdies in the last three holes.

Defending champion Tiger Woods was sloppy with every phase of his game and shot a 69 to be nine strokes behind at 205.

"It was ugly," Woods said after he missed fairways and missed even more putts. "I didn't play very well. My pace was off on my putting."

With a victory at the Bob Hope Classic and a second at the Masters, Couples is off to his best start in years.

"I know he is watching," Couples said about his father. "If I win tomorrow, I'll tip my hat to him. If I don't I'll read about the Colonial," referring to the the next tournament.


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