Couples relishing Royal Birkdale defence

Fred Couples ranks his victory in last year’s Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex at Turberry as one of the highlights of his career, and the American is now targeting a successful defence of his title next week at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, where he came so close to winning a Claret Jug.

The 53 year old finished tied third in The 1991 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, three shots behind champion Ian Baker Finch and one adrift of runner-up Mike Harwood after a magnificent final round of 64.

That remains his joint best finish in The Open, along with St Andrews in 2005, and is one of nine top ten finishes he recorded in golf’s oldest competition without managing to capture a Claret Jug.

It therefore proved to be a moment to savour for Couples when he triumphed on his debut in The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex 12 months ago, sinking a 25ft birdie putt on the last hole at Turnberry following an absorbing final round battle with 2010 champion Bernhard Langer.

The former World Number One now heads to Royal Birkdale, from July 25-28, to defend his title at a venue where he feels he has some unfinished business.

“I came close to winning The Open at Royal Birkdale in 1991 when Ian Baker Finch won, and I really like the course,” he said. “It was one where I played the par fives very well all week. I remember it being a very good test and very challenging.

“I know Mike Harwood played well that Open, but Ian made so many putts on the Sunday. I got off to a great start to put myself right up there and kept on going, but it seemed like Ian birdied every other hole. The course was pretty dry and played pretty short. I loved Birkdale because for me it was an advantage if I could drive between those bunkers and get it down there. It feels like a long time ago now. It was a chance for me to win The Open, but Ian played great to shoot 66.”

Couples has been in superb form on the US Champions Tour so far this season, finishing in the top five in five out of eight events and also tying for 13th place in the Masters Tournament at Augusta National, scene of his greatest triumph in 1992.

He went into last week’s US Senior Open, where he finished tied 14th, off the back of three straight runner up finishes, and this week, courtesy of his victory in The Senior Open, he returns to compete in The Open for the first time in seven years.

“I’m going to go to Muirfield and try to relax a bit and be ready to play well the week before defending,” he said. “Playing at Muirfield will be an unbelievable experience too. It’s great to have the chance to play in one more Open,