The 1992 champion missed the cut at Augusta National for the first time Friday, ending his consecutive cuts streak at 23. His streak, interrupted only when he didnt play in 1987 and 1994, had tied a record set by Gary Player from 1959-82.
Its been a long time, he said. Its been fun.
Couples, who had been the only Masters champion never to miss a cut, came to No. 18 needing a birdie to make the weekend, and he gave himself a great chance with a 10-footer above the hole. But he missed it by inches, and immediately looked skyward as the crowd groaned.
When I hit it, I thought Id made it, he said.
Instead, his even-par 72 put him at 4-over 148 and one stroke above the cut line. The top 44 and ties play the weekend, and he tied for 46th.
I thought if I could birdie a few holes, itd be close, Couples said. I needed one more.
Couples wasnt the only big name to miss the cut. Sergio Garcia wont be shedding the best player to never win a major tag this week, finishing at 4-over with Couples, three-time major champion Ernie Els, Luke Donald and Augusta native Charles Howell III. Rory Sabbatini kept the Par 3 Contest curse going, finishing at 5-over 149.
Steve Stricker (150), and former champions Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal (151) and Ben Crenshaw (152) went home early, too.
Couples had to scramble to make the cut last year, but that was when his back was aching so badly hed played only two competitive rounds coming into the Masters and was practically doing yoga between shots to keep himself loose. He arrived in far better shape this year, fresh from a tie for fourth at the Houston Open last weekend that was his best finish since tying for third at the 2006 Masters.
But he got off to an ugly start Thursday with a bogey on No. 1, and things never really improved. He shot a 4-over 40 on the front nine and finished with a 76, leaving him too much work to do Friday.
As well as I played last week, I think I set my sights a little high yesterday, he said. I went out and I struggled and I tried to hit better shots than I could, and I went from 2-over to 3-over to 4-over, and youre kind of done.
Couples was greeted with cheers of Go, Freddie! and Have a good one, Freddie! after he teed off on No. 1 Friday. But he could never get anything going, not making a birdie until the par-5 13th.
Youre not going to shoot good scores if youre not making a few birdies out there, he said. Theres a lot of hard holes and youre going to make bogeys.
He wont be making anything this weekend. For the first time in two-plus decades, Couples wont be around.
Im kind of disappointed in that. But Im really disappointed with the way I played, he said. The streak is part of the deal. But now its gone.
NOT ME: Jose Maria Olazabal wants to play in the 2010 Ryder Cup, not make out the lineup.
Olazabal denied a report Friday that hed been asked to be the European captain in 2010. He said he did discuss the job a few weeks ago with Henrik Stenson, who is on the players committee. But it hasnt been offered and Olazabal certainly hasnt accepted it.
We just had a little chat, nothing serious. The job was not on the line, the two-time Masters champion said after missing the cut by four strokes.
Im 42 years old. If I didnt think I could play in two years, I should not be here, Olazabal added. If I get healthy, I still feel I can play some golf. The captaincy can wait.
Olazabal has played in seven Ryder Cups, including in 2006 when he made the team after a seven-year absence. Nick Faldo made him an assistant captain for this years Ryder Cup, which will be played Sept. 19-21 at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky'provided Olazabal doesnt make the team as a player, which isnt likely to happen.
He missed much of last year because of a back injury, and is slowly working himself back into shape. He shot a 76-75 at Augusta National, and said hell now take the next few weeks off.
I feel tired, to be honest, he said. Im going to go home, take a few weeks rest and see how I feel, see if I get any stronger.
Europe has won the last three Ryder Cups, winning by record margins the last two times.
HONORABLE AMATEUR: Michael Thompson did the right thing, even though it might have cost him a chance to make the cut at the Masters.
The amateur called a one-stroke penalty on himself on the 15th hole after he saw his ball move after he had already addressed it. He wound up taking a bogey, then followed with bogeys on the next two holes to end any chance he had of making the cut.
It really turned my round, turned the momentum against me, said Thompson, the U.S. Amateur runner-up. It was very unfortunate, but Im sure its happened many a time before here.
Thompson might have gotten away with not saying a word. The ball moved so slightly his playing partners didnt notice, and the rules official wasnt close enough to tell.
It was his word and his word only'and he turned himself in.
He handled himself beautifully, said two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, one of Thompsons playing partners. He claimed that he grounded the club. I didnt see that, but my back was turned, I guess. And it was at a very critical juncture too. Hes looking at birdie and he knows hes right on the cut line, too.
You know, when the greens get this fast, a little gust of wind can move the ball. I didnt see him ground the club, but he said he did.
The bogey also cost Thompson the low-amateur title. He finished at 7-over 151, a stroke behind Trip Kuehne.
But Thompson said hed do the same thing if it happened again.
You just have to follow the rules. It doesnt matter how youre playing or whats going on, Thompson said. Stuff like that that happens, but its unfortunate that it happened for me this week because I really wanted to stay for the weekend.
PLUCKED ROSE: Justin Roses chances for a green jacket are all wet.
The Englishman did his traditional Masters swoon Friday, falling out of contention when he went in the water on 15 on his way to a triple bogey. With a 6-over 78, Rose went from a share of the lead to 10 strokes back.
Theres plenty to play for sometimes, even if youre not meant to win, Rose said. But yeah, obviously, its not going to be the exciting weekend I was looking forward to'exciting Saturday, anyway, I was looking forward to.
Rose wasnt having a great day to begin with, playing the front nine in 2 over. But it was the par-5 15th that ruined him. He laid up short of the pond on the 530-yard hole'and still put his third shot in the water. He flew the green with his fifth shot and that ball looked like it might go in the water, too, but it stopped short.
He finally got on the green with his sixth shot, then two-putted for an 8.
A 20-second lapse in concentration. In hindsight, I should have gone for the green, Rose said. I struggled with my concentration today. It was such a long round. Coming in last is tough, and theres a lot of noise going on. Thats what I found really tough coming in. I dont know if I didnt quite work my way around, but I was struggling out there. It was a tough finish.
This isnt the first time Rose has blown up when hes been at or near the top of the leaderboard. Leading after the first two rounds in 2004, he shot an 81 on Saturday that matched Lee Trevino for the worst third round ever by the 36-hole leader at the Masters.
Oh, and that 78 Friday? It tied 72-year-old Gary Player.
PLAYING IT AGAIN: Gary Player wont settle for just one tee shot next year.
The 72-year-old didnt come close to making the cut at the Masters on Friday. But he made his own cut with a 78.
I said if I break 80, Ill come back next year, said the three-time champion, who bent down and kissed the green as he came off 18.
This was Players 51st Masters, topping the record for most played that hed shared with Arnold Palmer. He hasnt been a threat here in years, making the cut only twice in the last 17 years. But he feels as if he can still play, and he loves this tournament.
But the fitness fanatic said he will make one change before next years tournament.
Im going to increase my weight training, the diminutive South African said. Its really irritating when I cant reach these par 4s.
DIVOTS: Defending champion Zach Johnson finally went for a par-5 in two Friday. He had gone the entire tournament'and Thursdays first round'without even trying to reach the longest holes in two. That wasnt my point, going for it. It was just the way I played, Johnson said. It worked. He made birdie. Johnson Wagner, the last person to make the Masters field after winning in Houston last weekend, made the cut. Hes at 2-over after a 76 Friday.