The Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship lost one of its biggest draws — as well as one of the legitimate contenders to unseat three-time defending champion Bernhard Langer — before the first tee shot has been struck at the Caves Valley Golf Club.
Former Masters champion Fred Couples, whose popularity from his days as the No. 1 player on the PGA Tour has carried over to his career on the PGA Tour champions, withdrew Monday because of ongoing back problems.
After taking more than a month off from the tour, Couples returned in late June to win the American Family Insurance Championship and contend in the U.S. Senior Open, where he finished tied for fourth.
Couples, 57, had won two tournaments this year and is third on the money list behind Langer and Kenny Perry, who won the Senior Open. Despite back problems that date to his career on the PGA Tour, Couples had won 13 tournaments on the PGA Tour Champions.
In 2011, Couples won the Constellation Senior Players Championship, when it was played at Westchester Country Club in Harrison, N.Y. Langer has won the past three, at three different courses, coming into Caves Valley.
Though he played well at the U.S. Senior Open, his back problems flared up during and after the tournament. Last week, PGA Tour champions president Greg McLaughlin said he thought the chances of Couples playing in Baltimore were "60-40" as long as his back didn't bother him during the tour's week off between major championships.
Unfortunately, it apparently did.
"I know that his back had been bothering him a little bit post his win at the American Family Insurance Championship," McLaughlin said. "When I talked with him, he felt that he needed a little bit more rest to be able to complete the season."
Asked how big a blow losing Couples will be in terms of fan interest this week, McLaughlin said: "Anytime you have any player that doesn't end up playing in the event, it certainly will impact it. But we've got a really good field right now. You certainly want all of them to play."
The tournament is scheduled to begin Thursday in Owings Mills.