Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Perfect Couples: Fred and Masters

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Perfect Couples: Fred and Masters

Article excerpt

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Fred Couples was waiting on Augusta's 18th tee when he moved into the Masters lead, a byproduct of Lee Westwood's double-bogey finish farther on up the hole. The 52-year-old American didn't have one more birdie in him, but an impressive chip from just below the bunker and an easy, three-foot putt for par was enough to send Couples into a second-day clubhouse lead, a 5-under total that even he admitted was "very shocking."

Yet isn't this what we've come to expect from Couples, whose golf game never has found a more perfect partner than the one he has in Augusta? His drive down Magnolia Lane isn't merely the entry point into his favorite week of the year; it's a personal time tunnel to his best days on the golf course, before a chronically balky back slowed him down, before his 50s-era birthday gained him entry to the senior tour.

"You know, I feel like I'm very young when I get here," Couples said.

On Friday, he checked in like it was 1992 -- this tournament marks 20 years since Couples won his sole Masters title -- with only the straight line of gray hair underneath his white cap seemingly there to mark reality's passage of time. Seven birdies across 18 holes, including back-to-back, course-defining roars on 15 and 16, put Couples into today's final pairing alongside Jason Dufner, also at 5 under. For a player who logged a win on the senior tour just two weeks ago, relevance like this is a gift from the golfing gods.

For Couples, it's a gift from his old friend Augusta National. He is this tournament's all-time scoring average leader, he recently was informed, "better than Jack Nicklaus." But, he added, "I don't know the last year he played, but his scores kept going up a little bit and mine will be doing that shortly.

"But [Friday] was not one of those days."

No, it wasn't. On Friday, Couples was wrapped in an Augusta embrace that mercifully transformed its cold and windy morning arms to a warm, sun-baked afternoon.

"I've said it for 28 years, this is my favorite golf tournament in the world," he said. "A lot of tournaments I play in, at my age now, not 20 years ago, it's another week of golf. And for me to be tied at this moment, you know, it's a little shocking. But I played a really good round of golf [Friday]."

Couples understands how his comfort and familiarity on the course are the magic erasers to time's expected toll, and in his 28th Masters, is the living embodiment of one of this tournament's most enduring charms, its permanent location. Former champs, no matter their age, come back here and fall into the arms of an old friend, eager to navigate the pine straw, bunkers, bridges and creeks they've walked before.

"I'm certainly not Rory McIlroy (4 under) or Phil Mickelson (2 under), but I do know this course pretty well. I've had a lot of success here," said Couples, owner of 10 top 10 Masters finishes. …

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