LUTZ — Fred Couples surprised tournament officials of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am when he committed to play just an hour before the deadline of 5 p.m. Friday.
Couples was in Augusta playing the Masters, his third tournament in as many weeks. The thinking was there was no way Couples would play four straight weeks, especially after a tournament as draining as the Masters.
But he will arrive at TPC Tampa Bay on Thursday to play in a pro-am before Friday's first round.
"It's huge," tournament director Amy Hawk said. "We kind of got an idea on Thursday, and depending on how he was playing at the Masters, he might commit on Friday. It makes it the best field we've ever had. We saw a huge spike in tickets sales when he announced. He's tearing up the tour right now."
Couples, 50, started his Champions Tour career with a second-place finish in Hawaii. That was followed by three straight wins, the latest at the Cap Cana Championship in the Dominican Republic. He will go for four straight wins this week. Last week, Couples made a run at being the oldest Masters champion before finishing sixth.
Rookies and veteran: Twelve players will make their first appearance at the Outback Pro-Am: Tommy Armour III, Paul Azinger, Olin Browne, Russ Cochran, David Frost, Steve Haskins, Tom Lehman, Tom Pernice, Jim Roy, Peter Senior, Bob Tway and Couples. Tampa's Jim Dent will make his 21st appearance in the tournament, passing Gary Player and Dale Douglass for the most.
Hale of a milestone: Hale Irwin will make his 1,000th start as a pro this week, both on the PGA and Champions tours. Irwin is the Champions Tour's wins leader with 45. He won this tournament in 2005. Irwin won 20 times on the PGA Tour, including three U.S. Opens. He is the 11th player to get to 1,000 starts. The all-time appearances leader is Miller Barber, who played in 1,292 tournaments.
Florida slump: Jay Haas and John Cook have never won an official tour sanctioned event in Florida, but there is hope. Haas is 0-for-117, including 0-for-17 on the Champions Tour. Cook is 0-for-104 (0-for-9 on the Champions Tour). Tom Watson was 0-for-93 in Florida before he won this event in 2007, then won again in 2008. All three are in this week's field.
Today: The Jim Beam Challenge begins at 10 a.m. with a shotgun start. Notable pros playing in the event include Fuzzy Zoeller, Peter Jacobsen, Azinger and Dent.