OMAHA, Neb. – Fred Couples feels like he’s overdue for a win.
He’s played seven events on the Champions Tour this year, has been in the top five in six of them and comes into the U.S. Senior Open on Thursday off three straight runner-up finishes.
“I would like to win something,” he said Wednesday, adding that he even came in second in a member-guest tournament in California last month.
Couples’ most recent victory was just under a year ago at the 2012 Senior British Open. He looked ready to win two weeks ago in the Senior Players Championship but a back-nine collapse left him tied for second behind Kenny Perry.
Couples said his bothersome back feels fine, so if the man nicknamed “Boom Boom” for his prodigious drives can find fairways at the Omaha Country Club, no one would be surprised if this week he breaks through.
“Fred still hits the ball a tremendous distance,” Bernhard Langer said. “He hasn’t lost any distance, maybe gained some with the equipment and all that. He’s capable of producing very low scores. Wherever he tees up, he’s one of the main favorites, no doubt about it.”
Couples, Perry, Langer, Tom Watson and David Frost are among the top contenders at the 6,700-yard, par-70 course.
The fourth of the five senior majors will be a test of stamina for the 50-and-over golfers, especially with weekend highs forecast in the low 90s with high humidity. The course is hilly, featuring elevation and topographical changes that belie the popular image of the central plains.
“Nebraska, you’d think flat and hot,” Perry said. “I got the hot part right but it’s the hilliest golf course I’ve ever been on.”
Drives in the fairway will be at a premium with the rough cut high and the greens small and sloped. The 312-yard 13th hole is drivable, but the course has the second-longest par 3 in U.S. Senior Open history in the 230-yard third hole and the third-longest par 4 in the 494-yard 10th.
The 53-year-old Couples’ scaled-back schedule begins to ramp up now. After the U.S. Senior Open, he plays the British Open at Muirfield and Senior British Open at Royal Birkdale in consecutive weeks — “which might be a little much,” he said.
For a man with a notoriously bad back, the schedule is taxing, in no small part because of the challenge the course presents. Even in the best of circumstances, golfers will find themselves with a good number of side-hill and downhill lies. And then there’s that gnarly 4-inch rough.
“If I drive it in the rough and don’t have a great lie, I’m not going to do much out of it,” Couples said. “I’ll play it safe.”
Roger Chapman will try to become the first defending champion to repeat since Allen Doyle in 2006. Chapman, who also won the Senior PGA Championship last year, hasn’t been able to recapture his 2012 magic. He has one top-10 finish in 13 events.
Notable first-time entrants are Colin Montgomerie, who turned 50 last month and tied for ninth in the Senior Players Championship; Rocco Mediate, who lost a playoff to Tiger Woods in the classic 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines; and Duffy Waldorf, who has six top-10s in 11 Champions Tour events this year.
Perry, the points leader, is looking for his second win of the year in a senior major. He shot three straight rounds in the 60s to win the Senior Players Championship by two shots over Couples and Waldorf in Pittsburgh.
“Anything that has ‘major’ attached to it was always my one goal,” Perry said. “Our majors out here probably aren’t looked upon like they are on the PGA Tour but they’re still a major. It still will be attached to your name.”