Throughout all of the preamble to this year's Masters, there seemed to be a desperate search for a good story. The best ones revolved around Tiger Woods' return to glory and Rory McIlroy's attempt to compensate for last year's futility.
Not many of those preseason shorelines, however, were dedicated to Fred Couples.
In a year when even the No. 1 and No. 3 golfers in the world were ignored as serious contenders for this year's green jacket, it's not a surprise. Couples, at age 52, last won the Masters in 1992—when, just for reference, McIlroy was three years old.
Perhaps Couples' younger counterparts seemed to make more exciting stories, or perhaps Couples just seemed to be over the hill compared to them.
But his comeback would be just as heartwarming a story as either one of them.
Couples, more than 20 years removed from his last win at Augusta, flew under the radar after Thursday's first round, lost somewhere in the middle of the leaderboard with an even-par 72. His first-hole bogey in the second round wasn't exactly a positive sign, either.
But from there, Couples picked up his game, birdying five of the next eight holes for a three-under 33 on the front nine, and pulling off two more on the back nine for a second-round 67. It was enough to pull even with Jason Dufner atop the leaderboard, and enough to leapfrog first-round leader Lee Westwood, whose double-bogey on the 18th hole put him one stroke off the lead.
Augusta may be the one place where Couples' age actually puts him a step ahead of Tiger or McIlroy. He knows the course so well after so many years of experience, and his long drives are incredibly well-suited to it. He told the San Francisco Chronicle's Ron Kroichick:
I feel like I'm very young when I'm out here. I'm certainly not Rory or Phil [Mickelson], but I do know this course pretty well. I believe I can win.
Couples may be a more constant presence on the Champions Tour than he is on the PGA Tour, but in spite of that—or maybe because of that—nobody would be disappointed to see him win. There aren't a lot of people more likable than Couples in this tournament.
Even McIlroy finds himself drawn to Couples' easy-going energy, telling Kroichick, "He's just so cool. I hope I'm that cool when I'm 52."
There are plenty of alluring storylines at this year's Masters—maybe more than ever before—but there aren't a lot that are better than this. It would be nice to see Tiger restore himself to glory, but it would be even better to see Couples, one of the game's bona fide nice guys, do it instead.
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