Handing Fred Couples a driver and giving him a free whack at a golf ball on every tee, a swing unencumbered by the usual concern of having to then find the ball, is like giving a spear gun to the shark in "Jaws." It's simply too much firepower.
But on Saturday at the $1-million Ronald McDonald Children's Charities golf tournament at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, they did give Couples--one of the longest drivers ever on the PGA Tour--a worry-free crack at the ball on each tee. With teammate Raymond Floyd--one of the most accurate drivers in PGA history--waiting in the on-deck circle with a back-up drive if needed in the unique alternate-shot format, Couples was free to crank it up.
And when the smoking turf on the tees had cooled after 18 holes, Couples and Floyd had left everyone--the spectators and Arnold Palmer and even themselves--gasping.
Couples and Floyd combined to shoot a spectacular round of 15-under-par, a startling score of 57 on the long and difficult layout in a format that does not routinely lend itself to unusually low scores.
"Fifteen under par for a round of golf is phenomenal," Palmer said. "It is pretty much unheard of. Fifteen under par is a lot of golf."
Even Couples seemed stunned.
"That was something else," he said. "Ten under par in alternate shot golf is spectacular, forget 15."
And from Floyd, a veteran of 28 PGA seasons and the winner of four majors: "I can't remember ever having so much fun on a golf course."
All the fun left Floyd and Couples with a six-stroke lead over the teams of Palmer-Peter Jacobsen and Mark Calcavecchia and Ian Baker-Finch heading into today's final round of the tournament. The final 18 holes will be played in a scramble format, with both players on the team hitting each shot and then selecting the better of the two locations from which to hit their next shot.
Curtis Strange and Mark O'Meara, the defending champions and the leaders after Friday's first round in a best-ball format, shot a round of 69 and were seven strokes behind the leaders.
In Saturday's format, both players hit tee shots. The better of the two drives was then selected and the other partner hit the second shot, repeating the alternating pattern until the hole was completed.
And right from the start, it was clear that Couples, knowing that if his drive whistled off the course the steady swing of Floyd would serve the team just fine, began to sting the ball. He scorched it down the middle of the fairway with tremendous consistency, powering it 310 and 320 and even 330 yards.
And then a smiling Floyd would step up to the ball and rip it at the pin.
"When you get to play in the fairway from where Fred was driving the ball, this is an easy game," said Floyd, winner of the Masters, the U.S. Open and twice the PGA Championship.
"I can hit the greens with a wedge, believe me."
And often, a wedge was all he needed. On the monstrous seventh hole, a 450-yard par-four, Couples hit a drive 325 yards into the middle of the fairway, leaving Floyd with a 125-yard shot to the green. He put the ball 10 inches from the flag, and Couples tapped it in for the easy birdie.
On the second hole, Floyd holed a 25-foot shot from the sand for an eagle. Floyd also chipped in for an eagle on the 11th hole. And as if his driving was not enough, Couples also donated a 20-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole and a 16-foot birdie putt on the 14th.
"It was very relaxing on the tee," Couples said, "knowing I could stand up and just rip it with Raymond behind me. I was definitely taking a big swing at it."
Calcavecchia and Baker-Finch, who shot a round of 62, would have been excused for being a bit frustrated after the round. After all, they combined to shoot five under par on the first nine holes--and lost a stroke to Couples and Floyd, who shot a 30 as the teams played together in a foursome. And Calcavecchia and Baker-Finch birdied the 11th, 12th and 13th holes and lost another stroke to Couples and Floyd, who played those holes birdie- eagle- birdie.
Calcavecchia was stunned, but not frustrated.
"It was just awesome," he said. "It was actually fun to watch. We played really good, and it's hard to believe we're down six strokes. It was something else to watch. Fred drove the ball 320 yards down the middle every time except on one hole, and on that hole Raymond stepped up and hit an absolutely perfect drive.
"It was perfect, I think. The perfect round of golf."
Not so perfect was the team of tournament host Greg Norman and course designer Jack Nicklaus, who finished with a 70 and were 14 strokes behind the leading team.
The tournament offers $250,000 to the winning team and is expected to raise more than $1 million for several charities.