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Couples out with back problems again

Fred Couples, who won the first of his 15 PGA Tour titles in Washington in 1983, withdrew from the FBR Capital Open Monday and may not be able to play in the U.S. Open next week in Chicago because of back problems that have kept him out of action for a month.

"His back has become a very difficult situation," said Lynn Roach, his Reston-based agent at Players Group Inc. "Right now, he's pretty much incapable of doing anything, much less play golf. He feels very badly about this because he knows there's a new sponsor and he wanted to play."

Because of chronic back problems, Couples has played a limited schedule the last 10 years. This season, he won at the Shell Houston Open in April, his first victory on the PGA Tour since 1998. At the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte last month, he hurt his back again picking a ball up out of the cup, and had to withdraw.

Roach said Couples was doing routine stretches Sunday night when his back went out again. Last week, he had hoped to play in the Memorial, and spent two days in Columbus, Ohio, working with his back therapist, Tom Boers, trying to get healthy enough to play before eventually withdrawing.

Roach said surgery is "not an option at this time, but if it gets worse, it could be. Right now it's aggravated and inflamed. I just hope he can play the [U.S.] Open next week."

"It's obviously a big loss," said Ben Brundred, chairman of the board of directors for the Capital Open. "Next to Tiger [Woods] and Annika [Sorenstam], the next tier is Fred, Davis Love and Phil Mickelson, as far as selling tickets. I know he wanted to play, it's really too bad."

Love and Mickelson will play here this week, and Brundred said ticket sales at this point have exceeded last year's numbers.

Capital Open Notes: Four other players withdrew yesterday -- Greg Chalmers, Paul Goydos, Ken Green and Tag Ridings. They and Couples were replaced by alternates Jay Don Blake, Deane Pappas, Kaname Yocoo, Ken Jones and Mike Sposa.


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