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GOLF NOTES

Fred Couples settles for a tie for third at Riviera

His misses out on chance to win with a poor second shot on the 18th hole.

February 23, 2009|James Wagner

Fred Couples nibbled and nibbled at the lead, but never could take a whole bite.

And eventually, the Seattle native finished tied for third when he took a chunk out of a eucalyptus tree at the Northern Trust Open.

His second shot on the 18th hole at the Riviera Country Club knocked into the vegetation and dribbled down the surrounding slope. It forced the PGA Tour veteran to bogey the hole and forfeit his chance at finishing second.

"You know, if I had hit solid and pushed it, it still may have caught the tree," said Couples, who shot a 69 on Sunday. "But I was trying to go right along with it. It didn't seem that hard."

It was a tournament Couples had considered dropping out of earlier this week, despite being winning this event in 1990 and 1992.

His estranged wife, Thais Baker, died of breast cancer Tuesday in their Santa Barbara home.

"It's going to be a struggle for the kids," Couples told the Associated Press, referring to the two children Baker had from a previous marriage.

One mistake

Andres Romero, who also tied for third, thought he made only one glaring mistake.

The 27-year-old Argentine, who wound up two shots behind winner Phil Mickelson, played as consistently as he had the previous three days. The dooming shot: A drive on the 12th hole that screamed far left and out of bounds. He also took a penalty shot.

"If I did it again I don't know where I'd hit it, but not that much to the left," said Romero, who bogeyed the hole.

Back on track

For Brendon de Jonge, his showing this week was almost a step toward redemption. The burly 6-foot, 230-pound golfer from Zimbabwe had his best finish of the season after spending last year away from the PGA Tour.

A 67 on Sunday propelled him into a tied for at 11-under overall.

De Jonge played on the Tour in 2007 but because he didn't make enough cuts he was bumped back down to the Nationwide Tour.

"I'd been mad that I was down there," he recalled.

Instead, De Jonge seized the opportunity again, won the 2008 Nationwide Tour player-of-the year award and jumped back to big leagues.

"I knew I was playing well," he said of his performance at Riviera.

"I knew I liked the golf course when I got here."

Overheard in the clubhouse

Waiting near the entrance of the scorer's room in the clubhouse after his final round, Steve Stricker appeared tense. He trailed Mickelson by one stroke and the possibility of a playoff was looming. Stricker's legs and arms were crossed, and one hand held over his mouth.

The entire room stood frozen as they watched Mickelson on TV.

But Scott McCarron, who finished tied for 10th, waltzed out of the nearby room and proclaimed: "Man, it's so quiet in here."

Nervous laughter erupted. Then silence again. Mickelson was closing in on the final hole and the win.

Overheard on 18

As Mickelson measured his final putt on the 18th hole, a fan blurted out something that brought smiles to that side of the crowds.

"Phil, Tiger's watching."

--

james.wagner@latimes.com

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