Bryant earns second career tour victory

Updated: June 7, 2005, 2:18 PM ET
Associated Press

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Bart Bryant spent 20 years trying to prove he belonged among the best, often laying awake at night wondering if three surgeries and too many trips to Q School were a sign he was wasting his time.

More on Fred Couples
Known for having back problems throughout his career, it's amazing that Fred Couples can still compete at such a high level on tour. But it's not without a lot of work to keep his back as loose and free as possible.

If you watched the final round of the Memorial Tournament, you may have noticed Couples constantly stretching in between shots. For those golfers with back problems, this is a good example to follow. Stay loose on the course by stretching out your hamstrings. Without getting too technical, the back of your legs are connected to your stomach muscles, which are connected to your back. If your hamstrings are tight, the back may tighten up, too.

Another thing Freddie does is take plenty of practice swings. These aren't full swings, but rather smooth, easy ones to maintain some rhythym and balance by staying loose.

As far as the actual golf swing, it helps to have a quiet lower body and more of an arm and shoulder turn. When you turn through and finish, stand more erect and finish with your hips and shoulders level. Couples just tips forward from his hips and keeps his legs straight and makes an upper-body turn. That kind of posture allows for a freer arm swing and puts a lot less strain and stress on his back.

Everywhere I go, people say they want to swing like Freddie. Use these tips and you'll be a lot closer.

-- Ed Bowe, ESPN Golf Schools instructor. Learn more about ESPN Golf Schools presented by Lexus at www.espngolfschools.com.

Winning the Texas Open last fall was the first step.

Validation came Sunday at the Memorial. Bryant somehow salvaged par from inside a hazard on the edge of the creek on the 18th hole, held off crowd-favorite Fred Couples by one shot and had an audience with Jack Nicklaus, the tournament host who was duly impressed with what he saw at Muirfield Village.

"To win against a quality field like this ... to walk off the 18th green and have Mr. Nicklaus waiting to shake your hand and congratulate you is beyond comprehension at this point," Bryant said.

Tiger Woods was stopped early with a double bogey on the eighth hole, and he wound up tied for third with Bo Van Pelt and Jeff Sluman. Woods needed to finish alone in third to replace Vijay Singh at No. 1 in the world ranking.

Bryant emerged the winner on a steamy afternoon at Muirfield Village, where the chase was so tight that 11 players were within three shots of the lead when the final group made the turn, and no one ever led by more than one shot.

It eventually became a duel, and Bryant didn't blinked.

The raucous cheers behind him as Couples surged into the lead never rattled the 42-year-old Texan. Bryant stole the lead from Couples, not to mention the show, with an approach into 5 feet for birdie on the 17th.

The real drama came at the 18th, when his 3-wood took a hard bounce and stopped inches from the water.

Playing it safe, Bryant took a penalty drop and lashed a 6-iron into 15 feet, then holed the par putt for a 4-under 68. He sat nervously in the scoring trailer waiting to see if his score would stand, and Couples' last chance ended with an approach that sailed over the green into deep rough.

"Bart deserved to win," Couples said after missing two putts inside 10 feet over the final four holes. "I can't really kick myself too hard. There are a lot of shots out there and there are a lot of things I did to save shots, too. But overall, I just needed one more putt."

Bryant was a forgotten figure among the four players tied for the lead going into the final round. He didn't have one-fourth the size of the gallery trailing Couples, one of the most endearing players on the PGA Tour. Some fans even called him "Brad," his older brother now on the Champions Tour.

But he was the only player among the top 30 who didn't make a bogey on the back nine Sunday. As Couples sent the gallery into a frenzy a collection of brilliant iron shots and key putts, Bryant matched him stroke-for-stroke.

"There wasn't anybody who played better golf," Nicklaus said with Bryant at his side. "Hole after hole after hole, Bart had a chance to have something happen. You made the putt every time."

None was bigger than the last one, a slick putt that just curled in the left side.

Bryant finished at 16-under 272 and won $990,000. Better yet, his victory got him out of his Tuesday appointment for a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier. Bryant earned an exemption by winning twice on the PGA Tour since last May, with the Memorial the cutoff for that category.

It will be his first U.S. Open since 1994, and only his third major.

He had injuries -- left rotator cuff in 1992, left elbow in 2000, right elbow in 2002 -- that kept him away from golf for six months at a time and dampened his hopes about making a living on tour.

Now, Bryant is even talking about spending more time with Nicklaus, the U.S. captain at the Presidents Cup, in September. The victory moved him to 15th in the standings.

"You're not far off," Nicklaus told him.

Woods made eight birdies, but the double bogey on the par-3 eighth slowed his momentum, and missing the 14th green with a wedge to make bogey ended his hopes. He shot 68.

"I needed a couple more putts to go in and a couple less mistakes," Woods said.

For Couples, it was a rare chance to win on tour, and he let it slip away, despite some electrifying shots. The best was a 4-iron that stopped 6 feet behind the flag on the par-5 15th for an eagle putt that would have created a two-shot lead. He pushed the putt and had to settle for birdie, then bogeyed the next hole from a bunker.

"When you don't play much, your short game kills you," said Couples, playing his first tournament since the Masters.

Bryant made it a two-shot swing with his birdie on the 17th, and when Couples missed a 10-footer for birdie on the same hole, he was one shot down on the 18th. His approach went into rough, and his chip sailed 35 feet past the hole. Couples made that for par -- one last cheer -- for a 69 and second place.

Bryant was thrilled to win the Texas Open last year, but he was quick to point out that the best players were at the Ryder Cup this week.

"This year was kind of about validation for myself," Bryant said. "I don't think anybody else really cared one way or the other, but for me, I needed to show myself that I belonged in the winner's circle, and I could compete with Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh and these guys."

He beat them all at Muirfield Village, then got an audience with Nicklaus, perhaps the best of all time.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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