Procedure in Germany Frees Up Couples to Play Again

Fred Couples returned to competition Thursday for the opening round of the Senior Players Championship. The popular player, who logged four victories in 2010 in becoming the Rookie of the Year on the Champions Tour, is playing in the senior circuit's final major of the season thanks to a procedure he recently underwent in Germany for his chronically bad back.

In the opening round of the championship at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., Couples shot a 68 and is three strokes behind 18-hole leader Jeff Sluman.

"The procedure has helped me get back out here and play," Couples said earlier in the week. "If I hadn't gone to Germany I wouldn't be playing right now. I'd still be trying to see if it would thaw out, and I don't think it would have. So that's basically why I'm here."

Couples, who's playing in only his sixth Champions Tour event of 2011, is hoping to do well this week, not only to dispel his own concerns about his balky back, but because he enjoys Westchester CC, for years a regular stop on the PGA Tour. "I never won here but played well a lot of times," he said.

Six weeks ago, Couples flew to Dusseldorf, Germany, for the non-traditional treatment, which involves a series of blood treatments. "It's a blood-work procedure, stuff they don't do in America," said Couples, who added that "quite a few people have gone there," including athletes and professional golfers. He had six treatments in five days and said he instantly felt better.

"I'm getting a little stiffer but the pain is gone," Couples said.

After the Senior Players Championship, Couples will turn his attention to the 2011 U.S. Presidents Cup team, of which he's the returning captain. Couples has two captain's picks, one of which may or may not go to Tiger Woods. Earlier this year Couples implied that Woods would be a shoo-in selection, but has since backed off from that promise, saying that Woods needs to play in more tournaments between now and the Presidents Cup, which takes place at Royal Melbourne in Australia November 17-20.

For this week, however, Couples is enjoying his return to competition, which has been pain-free so far. "I like to play in front of big crowds," he told reporter Rick Carpiniello of the Poughkeepsie Journal. "I've always had nice galleries, size-wise and personality-wise. But I just think that everyone picks their favorite players.

"I've had a lot of good years where I would play and there's a lot of cities I never went to, either, but basically this is one I really enjoy," he added. "New York is a very fun place. I've played a few tournaments at Winged Foot, and that's also a very nice week."