There is something about stepping onto the course at Augusta National for Fred Couples that brings everything back. The old swing, the old feel around the greens, the old swagger.
At 53 years old, Couples is heading into the weekend of the 2013 Masters one stroke off the lead, in the final pairing for yet another Masters Saturday.
That's pretty cool.
Couples, himself, is pretty cool too. You'd have to be cool to play your entire career with a nickname like "Boom Boom" and somehow make it work. After his second-round 71 on Friday, Couples was asked by a reporter what it's like to be so, well, cool (via Masters.com):
You know I'm cool, but I can be a jerk, too. So, I'm a cool jerk.
I think there are a lot of great guys on the tour and I've been around so long that I got that little cliché of being a cool guy. I enjoy everyone.
There are a few guys I really enjoy playing golf with. There are other guys I like watching—for instance Rickie Fowler, I'm excited at the finish he had [on Friday]. There are some young guys who are pretty cool guys. I don't know some of the guys that aren't too cool…for a reason, because they're not cool guys like the rest of us.
But…I have no idea.
He really is cool. And so, too, is the idea that for yet another year at Augusta, Couples is one of the biggest stories heading into the weekend. Allow yourself to think about where we might be on Sunday evening: Couples winning a green jacket more than 20 years after his miraculous victory in 1992 would just be so damn…cool.
For Couples, being competitive isn't about being cool, it's about staying cool under the pressure of each shot at Augusta, one seemingly more daunting than the last.
Of course, his composure helped win him the '92 Masters, but there's more to his game today than just keeping a cool head. It's what's in that head that is helping him the most; three decades of Masters knowledge, gleaned from playing so well over the last 29 years at Augusta.
"I've played so many rounds here that I feel pretty comfortable on some of these shots," Couples told reporters in the Masters media availability after his second round. "You still have to hit a good one, but the more times you play this place, it helps."
Heading into the weekend near the top of the leaderboard is nothing new to Couples, and he stressed on several occasions with reporters that he needs to just try to get to Sunday with a chance to compete, something he wasn't able to do in last year's tournament.
The last two days I've driven the ball nicely and so it's seemed like the same old course for me. So then you get in to—you know—am I good enough to play four rounds in a row on a course like this?
It didn't happen last year. I was four-over pretty fast on Saturday, which was a real…bummer. And then on Sunday I played well enough to finish in a good spot.
After missing the cut at Augusta in 2008 and 2009—the only two times in his career he didn't make it to the weekend—Couples has finished sixth, tied for 15th and tied for 12th in his last three Masters, carding at least one round in the 60s in each of the last four tournaments.
Couples has placed in the top 10 at the Masters 11 times in his career. Heading into the 2013 tournament, he has the best stroke average per round (71.89) of anyone who has played more than 100 rounds at the Masters. Through two rounds this year, he has bettered that number.
Because Couples looks so natural—and, yes, cool—out on the course, I'm not sure this can be put into proper perspective. Seriously, do you want to know how ridiculous it is that Couples is, yet again, in contention at the Masters at 53 years old?
The oldest winner in Masters history was Jack Nicklaus at 46 years, two months and 23 days old, winning his sixth green jacket in 1986. Couples was playing in his fourth Masters that year. For someone as old and off his game as Nicklaus to put it all together for four rounds to win another Masters was earth-shattering back then.
Couples is seven years his senior at this stage of his career.
The oldest runner-up in the Masters—should Couples stay in contention but not win a second green jacket this week—was Raymond Floyd, who placed second (behind Couples) at 49 years of age in 1992.
The oldest second-time winner in Masters history was Ben Crenshaw, who won the 1995 Masters at 43 years old, two months, 29 days; more than 10 years younger than Couples today. Crenshaw won his first Masters in 1984, 11 years before he pulled off a miraculous run of putting mastery to earn his second title at Augusta in 1995.
Gary Player, one of the greats of the game and one of the best to ever play the Masters, won his first green jacket on his fifth attempt, winning his second on his 17th try, some 12 entries (and 13 years) later.
Should Couples continue his play and put together two championship-caliber rounds, it would be the 20th Masters (and 21 years) since his last victory.
Being in contention heading into the weekend is amazing for Couples. Finding a way to win the tournament would be one of the biggest accomplishments in Masters history.
When asked by reporters if he thought heading into the Masters he would have a chance to contend, Couples replied:
I've been working on my game and sometimes it does catch on. I have stood up a little taller where I can get some club-head speed and I did tee off Thursday with the idea of playing well. I'm surprised [at being near the lead after Friday's round], but I'm not going to freak out over it.
I would like to have another run.
Through the years, Couples has taken 7,903 tournament strokes at Augusta heading into play on the weekend, each one embedded in his memory like a ball on the bank of Rae's Creek, waiting to be recalled and replayed whenever he needs to hit a difficult shot or manage the nuances that make Augusta so challenging to master.
It doesn't get any easier. Now, as I've played so many times, it's getting harder because the greens are so fast. I play on greens this fast once a year and it's here. On the regular tour, greens are fast every week they play.
For me, I don't get on greens [this fast], so it takes a lot of feel—you know, I had this putt seven years ago. I know that sounds stupid, but you know you get it on a ridge and it trickles down, you do your best and you move on to the next hole.
Couples has 36 holes to go. Drier conditions, wind, more difficult pin placements and a field of the best players in the game lurking all around him make the likelihood of a 53-year-old with a bad back—he says he feels fine, just tired, after two rounds—winning his second green jacket 20 years after winning his first about as improbable as a 14-year-old boy getting the first one-stroke penalty for slow play on the PGA Tour in nearly two decades.
Then again, this is the Masters. Anything can happen at Augusta, and seeing Couples put on another green jacket would be really, really cool.
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