After a tough Friday, Couples still has a shot

Fred Couples acknowledges patrons after a birdie at the 14th.

Fred Couples acknowledges patrons after a birdie at the 14th.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Fred Couples has made enough trips around Augusta National – Sunday will mark his 100th official round, to be specific – to know some strange, magical things can transpire at the Masters. He was 26 and on his way to a tie for 31st the year Jack Nicklaus shook the pines on the back nine in 1986 en route to a sixth green jacket at the age of 46.

So can a 50-year-old win a major – and not just any major, but the Masters? Couples at least gave himself a chance, rebounding from a disappointing Friday finish to shoot 4-under 68 in Saturday’s third round. He stands at 7-under 209, five shots behind leader Lee Westwood, and through 54 holes, only four golfers total sit between him and a second green jacket.

“I just love this place,” he said. “I have a shot at it tomorrow if I can shoot a crazy score, and we’ll see what happens.”

He’s probably correct on the “crazy” part. With another good day of weather expected, and the Augusta greenjackets expected to comply with some accessible Sunday hole locations, Couples likely will need to shoot 67 or so and hope for a little help from the players ahead of him – three of whom rank in the top 4 in the world.

The key for Couples will be getting a few putts to fall. Outside of a 20-footer he made at 12 in the opening round, a majority of his 13 birdies have come from close range. And it helped that he chipped in for eagle at the par-5 15th Saturday, lending a hand to Augusta’s afternoon eaglefest shortly after his buddy Phil Mickelson, one fairway over, went back-to-back on Nos. 13 and 14.

Couples joked to Mickelson that he wanted Lefty’s eagle ball from 14, and when Freddie knocked in his own eagle at 15, “I told him he (Mickelson) could have MY eagle ball.”

At 50, Couples would be the oldest major winner. He says there are times his balky back makes him feel double that number, but when he’s loose and feeling good, he certainly doesn’t feel 50 as a golfer. He’s won three Champions Tour events this year, still drives it plenty long enough – at 283.6 yards, he’s tied for 14th this week – hits lots of greens (38 of 54) and has plenty of knowledge and experience at Augusta that many younger peers simply don’t possess.

It remains to be seen how much Couples’ sloppy finish on Friday, when he had two late three-putts and finished bogey-bogey-bogey, will hurt him in the long run. Other than that, he’d be right there.

“This is my favorite spot to play,” he said. “I know I can play the course. I can putt the greens. I’m a great lag putter . . . I have one day tomorrow, and we’ll see what happens.

“It would be a miracle, but we’ll see.”

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