Been here, seen this: Couples, 54, in contention

Fred Couples acknowledges the gallery after his final birdie of the day, making a 10-footer on No. 13.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – We've seen this Masters storyline before . . . in 2010 . . . 2011 . . . 2012 . . . and, for good measure, in 2013.

So why should we expect anything else in 2014?

By all accounts, the 54-year-old Fred Couples should be overpowered by Augusta National. So why has he been inside the top 10 after 36 holes for the past four years?

Actually, make that five years.

The fan favorite took on difficult conditions Friday afternoon and returned a 1-under 71, moving him to 2 under on the tournament and in a tie for seventh.

"Well, I'm averaging 76 the last two Saturdays, which is not very good. So my approach will be to average anything lower than that to bring my average down," Couples quipped.

Couples' Saturdays have indeed been a bit rough, posting a worse score each year since 2010: 68, 72, 75 and 77.

"I didn't pinpoint really anything the last two years on Saturday except just some bad play, which led to maybe a little panic, and you'll do that at Augusta," said Couples, the 1992 winner of the green jacket and owner of 11 top-10 finishes in 29 starts.

"It's not like I walk around and hit every shot where I'm looking. But I have to putt well tomorrow, too. You're going to have a lot of par putts. The greens are like concrete. And I don't think they're going to water them."

Couples missed a trio of opportunities on the back nine that could have inched him closer to Bubba Watson's lead – mostly due to those rock-hard greens.

Playing the par-3 12th, Couples took 9-iron and aimed well left of the pin in the middle, only to see the wind switch directions during the flight of the ball as it came up short, but only trickled halfway down the steep slope in front of the green – which set off a huge applause from the pro-Couples gallery. "I got very, very lucky," he said. His shot came moments after Webb Simpson sent his 9-iron screaming over the green.

"The balls were 20 and 30 yards apart with 9-irons. And I got lucky by getting over the water," Couples said, chalking up the bogey to being nonchalant with his chip from a perfect lie.

He'd wipe away the bogey with an 8-footer for birdie on the 13th hole, followed by a run of three consecutive pars, including birdie misses from 25 feet on Nos. 15-16.

It was on 17 when Couples showed a little kink in his armor, missing his fifth fairway of the day, sending the ball over the gallery on the left, settling in front of a bevy of trees. With no room to go over them, he chose to punch it forward – finding a greenside bunker in front of a tucked pin on the far left of the green. He'd splash out to 8 feet past the hole, but tugged the par-saving putt to the left and picked up his third bogey of the day.

Couples looked to have taken out whatever frustration he had with that bogey on his drive on 18, blasting it 30 yards past both of his playing competitors. But it was his approach that was the most impressive, hitting a high-arcing shot that kicked off the right side of the green and fed back to the hole, leaving him 5 feet to finish with a birdie. But another tug to the left had Couples settling for being five shots back of the lead.

Couples was one of what is believed to be a record six players over the age of 50 to make the cut. He was joined by Vijay Singh, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Larry Mize and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

But Couples still insists he's not just happy to be around for the weekend.

"I'm not here just to play golf and think that I can't compete on this course. I can't compete with these guys over a year, but on one week I can compete and I have to do it tomorrow," said Couples.

Maybe the fifth time is the charm?

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