Martin Blake -Apr 7, 2012
An August favourite ... Fred Couples is seeking to become the oldest winner of the US Masters. Photo: Getty Images
Fred Couples had the crowds roaring at Augusta National today as America’s beloved veteran golfer made a trademark charge at the US Masters.Couples, 52, won his only major championship at the Masters in 1992, famously watching as his tee shot at the short par-three 12th trickled perilously close to Rae’s Creek but stayed dry.
He is an Augusta specialist, having a lower scoring average than even Jack Nicklaus (winner of six green jackets) and Tom Watson.The immensely popular Couples picked up three shots on the front nine and then hit a peerless long iron to the green with his second shot at the 15th hole, a par-five. When he curled in a sliding birdie putt at the par-three 16th he was within a shot of the lead and the roar of the crowd echoed around the bowl that is Augusta.
’’I’m certainly not Rory McIlroy or Phil Mickelson, but I do know this course pretty well,’’ he said later. ‘‘I’ve had a lot of success here.’’
Couples would be the oldest male major winner ever, should he close it out over the weekend. The current record of 48 years is held by Julius Boros. Nicklaus is the oldest Masters winner at 46 years, achieved in 1986. Couples had a chance to eclipse that landmark in 2008 when he was in the last group, but he was overcome by Mickelson. He was close to the lead halfway last year before fading over the weekend.
‘‘Can I win? I believe I can, yes,’’ the American said afterward. He has been playing at Augusta for 28 years, and it remains his favourite place in golf.
‘‘Actually, you know, I feel really young when I get here.’’
A double bogey six at the final hole by first-round leader Lee Westwood left Couples (67 today) and fellow-American Jason Dufner (69) with the clubhouse lead at five-under par. Spain’s Sergio Garcia (68 today), Westwood, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson are a shot back at four-under. McIlroy is the ace in the pack after his excellent 69 today, and Phil Mickelson (two-under) also is poised.
Australia’s best chance is Aaron Baddeley, who rolled a birdie putt in at the last to match his opening-round 71. Baddeley is two-under, just three shots back.
Four-time winner Tiger Woods was the other big story of the day, flailing about with a second straight day of swing malfunctions. Growing increasingly frustrated, Woods dropped his iron and then kicked it away after another shot skewed right at the par-three 16th. The former world No. 1 ended up carding a 75 and is eight shots back, most likely out of the running.
Queenslander Jason Day withdrew from the tournament because of the ankle tendon injury that bothered him in the lead-up, walking off after seven holes. Day was limping badly by the time he played the second hole, seven-over par for the tournament through seven and would have missed the cut anyway.
His issue now is to correct the problem, which happened in training a few weeks ago and needs rest. Day, runner-up here in 2011, will have to reassess his season because as things stand, he is due to play another tournament after a week’s rest.