Somewhere between a tree and a valley, Fred Couples' chances of playing his way onto the Ryder Cup team were lost.
Needing to finish fourth all by himself at the PGA Championship, Couples fell apart on two holes Saturday and finished with a 3-over 75. That leaves him at 1-over 217 after three rounds and almost certainly needing the generosity of captain Ben Crenshaw.
"What else you got? Anything else?" he said, growing testy when a reporter asked him about the Ryder Cup. "Talk to me tomorrow night. I've got one more round in this tournament."
Though a fourth-place finish seemed like a long shot, the 1992 Masters champion seemed poised for a run at it after three birdies over the first 11 holes. Then, disaster.
"I was at 5 under, cruising around," he said. "Now I'm 1 over, dilly-dallying around."
His drive on the par-4 12th went right, landing in the rough behind some trees. He could have punched out, leaving himself about 200 yards short of the green with par still possible. But he saw an opening in the trees and decided to take it.
His ball hit a tree limb and dropped, leaving him no choice but to chip it out to the fairway. He two-putted and finished with a double-bogey. Then he bogeyed the par-3 13th, putting his tee shot in the sand behind the green.
The worst was still to come. On the par-4 16th, Couples' second shot left him about 60 yards short of the green. But instead of playing it safe and aiming for the back of the green, Couples went for the pin, which was sitting at the front left edge. His shot landed just off the green at the edge of a hill and began rolling back.
It kept rolling, finally coming to a rest in a valley. His second shot didn't even make it to that edge before it fell back. He finally got to the green on his third try and then two-putted.
A triple-bogey 7. From 2 under to 1 over.
"It was depressing and disappointing," he said. "I need to go hit a few and try and come out tomorrow and feel like I did for 11 holes."
Playing his way onto the Ryder Cup team is still a possibility, Couples said. Just not a very likely one.
"For me to be a solo fourth, I need to shoot about 65, which could happen," he said. "I'd like to shoot in the 60s, but there aren't many of those going around."
If he doesn't finish fourth, Crenshaw could still put Couples on the team as one of his two captain's picks. But it might be a controversial choice, the last thing Crenshaw needs after the pay-for-play brouhaha.
Couples began the week in 17th place in the team standings, with the top 10 players making the team. While other bubble players like Tom Lehman, Steve Stricker and Chris Perry have been playing every week trying to pick up points, this is Couples' first tournament since June 28.
Even an eighth-place finish would have put him 12th in the standings, making him an easy choice for Crenshaw.
"The Ryder Cup position, for me, is not based on today's round, tomorrow's round or yesterday's round. It's really based on the whole week," Couples said. "If I keep hitting the ball like I was the first couple of holes today, I can tell Ben I'm playing pretty good golf."
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