AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Playing in his 32nd U.S. Masters, evergreen Fred Couples knows all the tricks and spots where bits of golf magic can be conjured up at Augusta National and on Friday pulled another great round out of his hat.
Experience matters at Augusta National and Couples, who won his Masters Green Jacket 25 years ago, before 2015 winner Jordan Spieth was even born, put his knowledge to good use carding a two-under 70 to feature on the midway leaderboard just three strokes off pacesetters Sergio Garcia, Charley Hoffman, Thomas Pieters and Rickie Fowler.
“It’s tough, it is my favorite spot in the whole world and I have played well,” beamed Couples. “I feel if I am healthy enough to swing at it I can play this course.”
Not only play it, but maybe also win. Couples, 57, would be the oldest Masters champion by 11 years but his performance on Friday was no fluke. Since turning 50 he has been in the top-10 after 36 holes no fewer than six times.
He last won a PGA Tour event in 2003 at the Houston Open and before that had not celebrated a victory since 1998.
But he has also had 12 wins on the Champions Tour, including one this year after missing most of last season with back issues.
“I feel like I feel pressure because I really want to do well,” said Couples, who will be partnered with 22-year-old Spaniard Jon Rahm, 35 years his junior for Saturday’s third round play. “I am little edgy because I feel I can still win it.
“How can you say no, I’m a competitor.
“Someone is going to win Sunday and if I play well enough maybe I’ll have a shot at it.”
He turned back the clock on Friday with a dazzling front nine that included three birdies on his opening five holes in a round marred only by a double-bogey at the sixth, where his putt from just short of the green failed to make it up the slope, rolling back to his feet and prompting to pull out his wedge for his next shot.
The only major staged at the same venue, knowledge is king at Augusta National and after 110 competitive rounds and hundreds more practice rounds Couples’ Masters IQ would rate him a genius.
“I putt well here, even though sometimes I’m not considered a great putter, I putt very well here,” shrugged Couples. “I feel the greens, the speeds from yesterday, to this afternoon, they were way faster.
“I just played so many times that I kind of feel like I’m not going to make many mistakes.
“For me, I don’t really think about driving the ball far or hitting great irons, it’s just knowing the course.
“It’s not very easy to figure out.”
Editing by Andrew Both