There was a little Masters Magic in the air on Friday, and Fred Couples played the role of David Copperfield en route to a tidy little 5-under 67. Freddie had only 2 bogeys on the day to go along with 7 birdies, and that leaves me with only one assumption: the back must be feeling pretty good! We’ve seen this before, only to watch him struggle one of the rounds on the weekend. But could Fred Couples become the oldest major champion ever on the 20 year anniversary of his win here back in 1992? Seriously? “Well, that’s a great question. I mean, I think I surprise a few people, but myself, I mean, if I get going and I feel strong and drive it, the course is much longer than it was in ’92 when I won, but I still feel like I can compete here and play, and that was my main goal when I came here. People ask, can you win, and I want to compete,” Couples said. “If I would have shot 71 today and was 1‑under, I’d feel like I would be competing. By the time I’m finished at 5‑under, right now tied for the lead, I’m doing more than that. But there’s 10 more hours of golf out there at the pace we’re playing, exactly 10 more hours of golf, so I’ve got a lot more to look forward to. But it’s something that will be a lot of fun.”
Speaking of fun… Jason Dufner seldom looks like he’s having much fun, but maybe that’s because he’s all business about picking up his first career win this week, and what a win it would be… Dufner followed up his 3-under 69 on Thursday with a 2-under 70 in his round on Friday, and finds himself sharing the lead and playing with Old Man Couples heading into the weekend at the Masters. We all know that Freddie doesn’t mind a little conversation from time to time, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be a chatterbox with the ever stoic Dufner on Saturday. Dufner just seems to be a man in his own world while out on the course, so it’ll be interesting to note how the chemistry of their pairing plays out. But don’t expect Dufner to get out of his game face and play Mr. Social, he’s as emotionless as it comes. “I don’t really think about it to be honest with you. I’m just playing a round of golf. I know the situation and I’m playing a major, I’m playing at Augusta in the Masters. As a player, I know everything that’s going on,” he said. “At times I know I that I am leading or behind or whatever it might be in that situation. I’m just trying to have a nice round of golf, play well, commit to my shots and let the rest take care of itself.”
Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy won’t be paired together tomorrow despite being tied at 4-under, but both go into Saturday knowing that a good round by each of them could very well offer a head-to-head repeat scenario that we saw earlier this year at the WGC Accenture Matchplay Championship. Westwood played carefully in the tough windy conditions on Friday, not getting into red numbers on the day until a birdie on the par5 15th got him to 1-under. But he lost his way on the 18th, after coming up short on his approach and then 3-putting for a double bogey to finish at 1-over 73. But while Westwood methodically plotted his way around Augusta to a 1-over round, Rory McIlroy looked much more comfortable on Friday than he did a day earlier. McIlroy picked up 3 birdies on his opening 9, making the turn at 3-under 33. He would give one back at the 10th, but got back on track with birdies at the par5′s 13th and 15th. He would go on to make bogey on the 17th, but finished with a par and a 3-under 69. Afterward, McIlroy talked about the significance of his birdie-birdie finish on Thursday to get the stage set for his good round on Friday. “You know, just from the get‑go this morning, I think the two birdies helped last night, put me in a positive frame of mind going into today and from the get‑go hit the ball a lot better,” McIlroy said. “Had a great drive up 1 and sort of went from there and hit the ball in the fairway a lot more and was able to attack the pins. I ended up shooting 69, which I thought was a good score today in these conditions.” What does he think about a 52-year old Fred Couples leading the charge into the weekend? “He’s just cool. (Laughing). I hope I’m that cool when I’m 52, or whatever he is,” he said. “Yeah, he’s just a cool guy. And he’s good fun. I’ve gotten to know him a little bit over the last couple of years, and you know, he’s laid back and relaxed and just a really nice guy.” Beware of the nice guys, young Rory. Be very aware. Freddie might be old enough to be your father, but he can still hang with the pups.
And finally, there was Lefty and Tiger. One of them made a charge on Friday, while the other fizzled like a wet bottle rocket. Hint: it wasn’t the southpaw. After his struggles on Thursday, Tiger Woods said that he was stuck between Haney’s old swing and Sean Foley’s new swing. On Friday, he looked like he was stuck between Herman Monster’s swing and Charles Barkley’s. And it just wasn’t the swing, but the bad vibes emanating from the old flatstick again as well. Not many players could make that big of a mess in a round at Augusta and shoot 3-over 75, as there have been far prettier 3-over 75′s posted this week. But for a guy who was favored to win coming into this week and trying to prove that Jack’s record is no longer safe again – he certainly hasn’t answered the door the first two days. Or let me put it this way: The Old Tiger wouldn’t be talking in terms familiar with little league baseball. “Well, that’s one of the neat things about this tournament is the ten‑shot rule. Anybody can still win the golf tournament if they make the cut,” Tiger said. “Guys have won this tournament from five and six back going into the back nine. I just need to cut that down a little bit tomorrow, play a good, solid round and cut that deficit down and get off to a quick start again on Sunday like I did last year.” A good round at this point for Tiger would be even-par, which would still likely find him at least 6-7 shots back heading into Sunday. Of course, he could decide to stop playing golf swing and start playing golf again, but then that would mean that he’d ultimately end up reverting back to “old patterns.” Old patterns, mind you, that won 14 major championships….
While Woods was busy playing Shamus McDuff on Friday, Phil Mickelson pieced together a round of golf that actually put him right back into the tournament. Lefty made the turn at 1-under 35, and then found his stride midway through the back-nine by birdieing 4 of his last 7 holes. His 4-under 68 on Friday puts him only 3 shots back of Freddie and Dufner heading into Saturday, and is ecstatic about his rebound from a tough opening round of 2-over 74 on Thursday. “Are you kidding me? After yesterday’s round I love it. To be only three back with 36 to go, there’s a lot of time left and there’s a lot of birdies out there and I get to slide off before the leaders,” Mickelson said. “If I make a move, they get to see those numbers being posted ahead of them, and that’s not always easy.” But despite his renewed spirit, Mickelson understands that the term “moving day” has never been more meaningful than a Saturday at Augusta. “I feel like Saturday is the day you can really make a move. Sunday you kind of cherish the back nine and it’s exciting, but I feel like Saturday is the day you have got to play well to get yourself in position,” he said. “Tomorrow will be a critical day. It will be a critical day to get myself in a spot where I don’t have to make up too much ground from the leaders.”
The tournament is far from over, as there are approximately 15 other guys within 3 shots of the lead. A big factor for Saturday will once again be with the wind, especially as the course dries out and the greens get a little firmer. On Friday, a 5-under 67 was certainly doable as Couples showed, but on Saturday with the firmer conditions and the tougher hole locations? Anything sub-70 will likely be a great score. Patience has always been a big part of the winning ingredient at Augusta, and it’ll be a necessity heading into the weekend for those hoping to prevail, even for the cool, distinguished over-50 types.
Go get ‘em, Freddie.
For a full recap of Friday’s action at the Masters, click HERE.