Old master Couples casually moves into tie for the lead
Charles Howell III is from Augusta. He was born here. He played Augusta National a lot growing up. But the ropes and the Masters scoreboards go up, the fans file in, and he is instantly ill at ease. His strategy to change his luck this year? “More praying,” he said. Fred Couples? Coming here, for him, is like putting on an old pair of slippers, which just happen to be the most beautiful slippers ever made.
The fans adore him. The course pleases his eye. The minute he tees it up here, he loves the whole world, and it loves him back.
He saunters around, in no hurry, swings the club with that absurdly rhythmic tempo that defies age and belies the back problems that have plagued him for decades — and surprisingly often, for a man his age, he is summoned to the interview room to explain how it’s possible that he is leading the Masters after a round or two.
At 52, owner of the lowest career scoring average in the tournament’s history — lower than Jack Nicklaus’, and the Golden Bear won it six times — Couples cruised around a cool, blustery day in a crisp, seven-birdie, two-bogey round of 67 to share the 36-hole lead of the season’s first major with 2011 PGA Championship runner-up Jason Dufner.
“I’m sure I’ve gotten frustrated here,” Couples said, “but you know, I say this about Phil (Mickelson), because I feel the same way about me: This is a park for Phil, and he walks around and there’s a lake over here and if he’s got to carve it across this pond, then, do this or do that . . .
“I don’t feel too much stress. Now, obviously there’s stress out there. (But) playing here, I’m not going to let too many things bother me. It’s so beautiful. You can’t say it’s your favourite place and then break a club on the fourth hole on Saturday.”
Of course, we all understand the bottom line.
He is not going to do it.
I’d be a walk-off. I am dead serious when I say that. What a way to go
Fred Couples is not going to win a second Masters, 20 years after his first and only major championship.
The golf gods always find a way to trip up old guys before the finish line. They did it to 53-year-old Greg Norman, the 54-hole leader at the 2008 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. They did it, even more cruelly, to 59-year-old Tom Watson on the 72nd hole at Turnberry a year later.
Couples is only 52, but he’s a sore-backed 52 who could slip a disk bending over to tie his shoes. He could go cold, or the weather could, as it did Friday morning before the sun broke through midday. So he knows the score, but what the hell . . .
“I stand out there and say ‘What the hell?’ a lot; what do I have to lose here? But once you really get cruising around, then it becomes ‘Play a smart shot.’ Fifty-two years old. I’m getting up there. I feel like it won’t be long . . . someone just asked me a minute ago, I have the lowest scoring average, better than Jack Nicklaus. I said, well, I don’t know the last year he played (2005, age 67), but his scores kept going up a little bit and mine will be doing that shortly. But today was not one of those days.”
If he were ever to win this thing, Couples said, he’d be done with tournament golf, except for coming back to Augusta each April: “It’d be a walk-off. I am dead serious when I say that. What a way to go.”
Meanwhile, Canadian Mike Weir seemed to know his game wasn’t as good as his score on Thursday.
So when a first-round 72, even par at Augusta National, morphed into a fat 79 in Round 2, he didn’t sound terribly surprised. Hurt, yes. But not surprised.
“I got off to a bad start and when you’re trying to play catch-up around this place, it can bite you,” the 2003 Masters champion said after finishing his week with a 3-wood to within six feet at the punishing 18th, and a closing birdie on a hole that destroyed many a round of golf Friday.
“I didn’t putt well either, so when you’re not doing that or hitting it very well, that’s a bad combination. I just didn’t feel the same today — maybe it was the cold morning, rain suit on, didn’t ever get loose . . .”
His 151 total missed the 36-hole cut, thanks in large part to a front-nine 41 that included a double-bogey six at the first hole — where he hit it into the right trees off the tee — and four consecutive bogeys at the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th.