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Couples finishes with a flurry to win in Houston

HUMBLE, Texas -- Fred Couples was overwhelmed and nearly
speechless after capping his first victory in five years with a
birdie on the final hole of the Houston Open.

''I mumbled a few things, then basically wanted to get ... out
of there,'' Couples said, after breaking into tears on the 18th
green following Sunday's four-stroke win. ''I needed to regroup a
little bit.

''It's different. I haven't won in five years. I haven't played
really well in five years.''

He had at least a share of the lead for all four rounds of the
tournament close to the University of Houston campus, where he
played in college.

He shot 5-under 67 left him at 21-under 267 as he outdueled
playing partner Mark Calcavecchia and held off challenges from
Stuart Appleby and Hank Kuehne to break a winless string of 87
events going back to the 1998 Memorial Tournament.

''I feel honored to win again,'' the 43-year-old Couples said,
after looking like the golfer who was dominant in the 1990s. ''I
played a very, very good round of golf.''

After stumbling midway through his round Sunday, including a
double-bogey in the water at No. 7, he shut the door with four
birdies on the final six holes, including three straight starting
at the 14th. At the par-4 474-yard 16th hole, he left his second
shot a foot from the pin, using the same 6-iron that had failed him
at No. 7.

''I didn't know how close I was,'' Couples said. ''The people
were going crazy.''

It was ''the shot of the day,'' he said.

Kuehne, Calcavecchia and Appleby, all holding at least a share
of the lead after the turn, tied for second at 271, followed by Jay
Haas at 272 and Jeff Maggert at 273. Maggert eagled the first hole
and then went on to tie the course record with an 8-under 64.

''That's the best I've ever seen Fred play,'' said Calcavecchia,
trying to end his own two-year winless streak. ''I will take out of
this week that I know I am going to win again, eventually.''

Kuehne and Calcavecchia were doomed after finding the water late
in their rounds and Appleby's bid was derailed by a bogey at the
16th hole after an errant tee shot.

Couples led by one over Calcavecchia heading into Sunday's final
round and started with a birdie at No. 1.

Calcavecchia started fast, opening with a pair of birdies. His
second shot at the par-4 427-yard second hole landed less than 3
feet from the pin. That put him back in a tie with Couples.

But on No. 4, a 401-yard par 4, Calcavecchia's second shot
landed in the pond that fronts the green and led to a double-bogey.
It was a three-stroke swing as Couples made an 18-foot birdie.
Calcavecchia then made up a stroke with a 21-foot birdie putt on
No. 5.

Couples returned the favor, going into the water for the second
straight day at the seventh, which became the toughest hole of the
week for the golfers, leaving him and Calcavecchia tied at
16-under.

Given the opening, Calcavecchia's drive at the par-3 eighth hole
landed 2½ feet from the cup, leaving him an easy birdie attempt
while Couples was 61 feet away. But Couples rolled in a perfect
putt, throwing his putter into the air and doffing his visor as the
huge crowd following the pair roared. Then Couples took the lead at
18-under with an 11-foot putt on No. 9 while Calcavecchia's
2-footer slipped by the side of the hole for par.

At 10, Couples' bogeyed and, when Calcavecchia birdie attempt
from less than two feet rimmed off the cup, they were tied again.

Calcavecchia seized the lead on the 12th hole, two-putting for
birdie while Couples made par, then gave it back with a bogey on
13.

''I watch (the leaderboard) all day, and it went up and it went
down and then it went up again,'' he said.

Appleby, a winner in 1999 at this event when it was played at
the TPC at The Woodlands, and Kuehne, the 1998 U.S. Amateur
champion, were making moves.

''Calc went crazy, then Kuehne went nuts, then Appleby,''
Couples said. ''It was a lot of fun to be a part of it.''

Appleby started the day two shots behind Couples, but stayed
close, making the turn at 1-under. after a bogey at 10, he birdied
four of the next five holes, putting him in front, but the bad
drive on No. 16 took him well off the fairway and led to a bogey
while Couples and Calcavecchia were making birdie right behind him
at 15.

Kuehne, who had a share of the lead after the second round, made
the turn at 2-under for the day, birdied Nos. 10 and 12 and then
had consecutive birdies at 15, 16 and 17 to hold the lead by one
shot. But the 27-year-old from Dallas put his tee shot at the 18th
hole into the water. After taking a drop, his next shot soared over
the green, leaving him with his only bogey of the day.

''I just hit a bad shot,'' he said.

With Couples making birdies at Nos. 14, 15 and 16, Calcavecchia
fell out of contention for good when his shot at the 17th hole
stopped at the edge of the water and he waded in knee-deep to avoid
a penalty drop. When his par attempt hung on the lip of the cup for
bogey, Couples was home free.

This year the tournament, sponsored by Shell Oil Co., was moved
from The Woodlands complex after a 28-year run to the new sprawling
Redstone Golf Club, at 7,508 yards the fourth-longest course on the
tour.

Notes
This tournament, first played in 1946 and now the
10th-oldest on the PGA Tour, has been won by six players in their
40s. Players in their 20s have won 22 times. ... Peter Jacobsen,
who helped design the course, had a 69, finishing at 276, 12 under
par.