Sad Week For Couples On And Off The Course

February 21, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Not long after another bruising defeat on one of his favorite courses, Fred Couples slowly made his way to the parking lot after a week at Riviera that was turbulent in so many ways.

He learned on Tuesday that his estranged wife, Thais Baker, died of breast cancer.

Then, the 49-year-old with graying hair and an achy back put himself in the final group for the first time in nearly three years and came to the 18th hole at Riviera within one shot of the lead.

"I just couldn't make another one at 18," he said.

Couples considered pulling out of the Northern Trust Open when he learned his wife - divorce proceedings have been ongoing for the last three years - died at their home in Santa Barbara about two hours to the north.

"There's not much I can say," Couples said of a complicated breakup. "I'm not really welcome up there. So I decided to play."

She was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks after they began dating, and they married in 1998. She had two children from a previous marriage, 18-year-old Gigi and Oliver, who just turned 16. Even after they broke up, Couples moved back in with his wife in March 2007, but the attempt at reconciliation lasted only six months.

"She was a very nice person," Couples said. "I think I'm a good guy, and I'm sure her friends think I'm a bad guy. That's irrelevant. We just didn't get along that well. And we never got divorced."

He was aware that Baker's cancer had returned, and she took a turn for the worse at the end of last year. Couples said she continued to live in their sprawling estate.

"She wanted to die in the house, and that's what happened," he said. "She did everything she could to make it another month."

After he shot 65 on Saturday to get into the final group, Couples tried to say hello to Oliver at the end of his interview with CBS Sports, but the camera had turned away.

"It's going to be a struggle for the kids," Couples said. "I still text Oliver, which is fun. He jumps right on."

With that, he climbed into his car and headed off. Couples said he planned to take the next month off, and hoped to be allowed to help out with the kids, particularly the son.