Happy Birthday

Published: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
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Chris Couch watches his par chip shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans PGA golf tournament Sunday. Couch made the chip to win the tournament.

Photos by The Associated Press
When the ball was about six feet from the hole, Chris Couch had one thought.
"This thing's going to go in," he said Sunday night.
And then, it did. And the former Florida golfer and current Gainesville resident let out a yell that could be heard in the bayous of Louisiana.
Couch's 54-foot chip found the bottom of the hole giving him the Zurich Classic at New Orleans' English Turn Country Club by one shot. It also gave him a check for $1.08 million and an exemption that will keep him on the PGA Tour at least through 2008.
"That's the greatest thing, that I have a job for the next couple of years," said Couch, who turns 33 today. "My goal this year was to keep my Tour card and now I've done that and I've also done it for next year and the year after that."
The chip-in capped an emotional day for Couch, who made the cut on the number Friday before vaulting into the lead Saturday with a 64. On Sunday, he started fast with birdies on three of the first four holes and appeared in control when a 3-foot birdie putt gave him a two-shot lead with two holes to play.
But he needed a 12-footer to make bogey on 17 and then nearly saw his dreams fade when his second shot on 18 flew over the green into an impossible downhill lie in the back bunker.
"Horrible lie," he told The Sun on Sunday night as jazz music played in the background. "I was just trying to get it on the green. The one thing I didn't want to do was catch it thin because that would have left me an impossible up-and-down.
"So I was just thinking, get it on the green but even if you leave it short you have a chance to get into a playoff."
Fred Funk was already in the clubhouse after a closing 62 left him at 18-under. Charles Howell III had a lengthy birdie putt and also stood at 18-under. Up by a shot, Couch watched his chip track toward the hole, never wavering before falling in.
"That last shot was incredible," he said. "I yelled louder than the crowd did when it went in. I was just going, 'Ya-ya-ya-ya!' "
Howell still had a chance to force a playoff, but missed his birdie putt.
"It still hasn't sunk in yet," Couch said.
The theme for the tournament in a city devastated by Hurricane Katrina was perseverance which made Couch a fitting champion. Twice he had stints on the Tour only to lose his card. It was less than two years ago that he nearly quit professional golf to take a job at the Gainesville Country Club, but went back on the Nationwide Tour with a loan from a friend and a last-chance attitude.
Couch won enough on the Nationwide Tour to earn another trip back to play with the big boys. But 2006 was more of the same heading into this week. Couch was 209th on the Tour's money list when the tournament began (today, he is 24th).
And then the week started off on a bad note when Couch, who had been downtown drinking with friends, couldn't find his car Sunday night. He got a ride with some women, felt uncomfortable about where they were taking him and bolted into the night.
He eventually ended up calling the police, but minus some cash and his cell phone. He talked to The Sun after his first career PGA Tour win with a borrowed cell phone. "I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "I got a little scared and I ended up running a couple of miles. It wasn't that big a deal."
Winning, on the other hand, was a big deal.
"It's incredible," he said. "I always knew I could win out here but things never happened for me. Maybe this will be the beginning of something, a jump over that peak."
Contact Pat Dooley at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or 374-5053.

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