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April 12 2013

3:22 PM

Couples turns back clock again

Fred Couples continues his love affair with Augusta National.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Fred Couples has now played in 29 Masters. But he had never come in on Sunday to get in some extra practice  for the season's first major.

Until this week, that is. And Couples' work with his long-time instructor Paul Marchand that day is paying plenty of dividends at the midway point of the 77th Masters.

Couples opened with a 68 on a Thursday when Augusta National was being particularly generous and he gutted out a 71 in the second round that left him in a tie for the lead. He also held the lead a year ago at the same juncture but ended up tied for 12th.

Couples will be 53 years, 6 months, and 11 days old on Sunday and with a win would eclipse Sam Snead as the oldest winner in PGA TOUR history. Snead, who like Couples is a former Masters champ, was 52 years, 10 months and 8 days when he won the Greater Greensboro Open in 1965.

Of course, two rounds remain on a course that is as grueling mentally as it is challenging physically. Couples, who says he doesn't expect his chronically cranky back to be a problem, shot 75 in the third round a year ago and tumbled to 11th so he knows better than to get ahead of himself. 

"I would like to, you know, have another run," Couples acknowledged. "As I said last year, both Jason (Dufner) and I, we struggled right off the bat and we really were a non-factor on Saturday and that was not really much fun. Hopefully tomorrow will be a little different and I will play well and have a shot at Sunday.  I mean, that's my goal. 

"But it is hard. I'm not going to kid you. I mean, it's a hard course. I'm really tired. I'm swinging hard at every drive I hit; there's only ten or 12 of them. But the 53 and all the practice, I've never been here on a Sunday in all the years, not one time, but I came in on Sunday because I was just playing so poorly."

Marchand walked inside the ropes with Couples that afternoon -- standing inches from his long-time friend and saying "do this, and it was a little bit of a blessing," Couples recalled. He got his student to stand more upright to generate more clubhead speed.

"I did tee off Thursday with the idea of playing well, and now it's Friday afternoon late, I mean, I'm surprised, but I'm not like, you know, going to freak out over it," Couples said. " ... I kept working with (Paul) and hitting balls and played a few holes. I got better fast. I'm hoping it keeps going tomorrow and Sunday."

Couples said the catalyst in Friday's second round was a two-putt birdie from 100 feet at the eighth hole after he had "butchered" No. 7 by missing the green not once but twice on the way to a double bogey. The birdie, though, was "kind of like a sigh of relief," Couples said. "From then on, I played really, really well." 

Through two rounds, Couples has hit 75 percent of the fairways and 61 percent of his greens in regulation. He's putting well, too, with just 25 on Thursday and 28 in the second round. The U.S. Presidents Cup captain has yet to three-putt.

So can he keep it up? Don't bet against it. Couples has 11 career top-10s at the Masters and has finished 15th or better each of the last three years.

"The last two days, I've driven the ball nicely, and so it seems like the same old course for me," Couples said. "So then you get into, am I good enough to play four good rounds in a row on a course like this? It didn't happen last year. I was 4 over pretty fast on Saturday, which was a real bummer."

Couples joked he would retire last year if he had won the Masters. Although no one wants to see golf's king of cool put his clubs in the closet permanently imagine what a story that would be.

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