Notes Freddies Streak Beach Time for Clarke


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The streak began well before Fred Couples' hair began to gray and his back began to go.
To keep it going for a record-tying 23rd year, he needed an up-and-down from 15 feet. When he made it, he let out a big sigh of relief and heard the roar of fans who love spending this weekend with him.
'I'm looking forward to playing two more rounds here,' said Couples, the winner in 1992. 'The streak, I'd rather miss the cut five years ago and win last year. But to make it is great because I certainly had no vision (of playing). I played two rounds of golf this year.'
Couples finished at 8-over 152, right on the cut line. Because scores in the first and second rounds were so high, the 10-shot cut rule was in effect, meaning 60 players -- the most since 1993 -- will return for the weekend.
The 152 cut score was the highest since 1982.
'Scary, isn't it?' former champion Fuzzy Zoeller said when told he could make the cut for the first time since 1998.
Missing was Ernie Els, who failed to make a cut in a major for the first time since the 1999 PGA Championship. It also ended the longest active cut streak on tour at 46. Jim Furyk now has the longest active cut streak at 20.
Couples, 47, has struggled with a bad back for years, but never has it been worse than the last few months. His back went out during practice at Pebble Beach, and he spent the next three days in bed. When he arrived at Augusta, he hadn't played a competitive round in two months.
And he has no idea when his back might go again. He had an epidural after Pebble Beach, and will probably get another when he's done here. In the meantime, he puts up with throbbing pain that he likened to a toothache.
He stretches on every hole, doing trunk twists and back bends. When he bends over to fish a ball out of a cup or put a tee in the ground, he leans heavily on a club.
But the lack of playing time hurts his score more than the back, Couples said.
'I can almost play this course blindfolded. I can get it around, and I think that's what I did yesterday and today,' he said. '(But) I would say this course is a little too tough for me.'
That's sort of what the folks at Augusta National were thinking when they subtly suggested in 2002 that past champions should call it quits once they reached a certain age.
Based on this year's cut list, maybe they should be sending out more invitations.
Sandy Lyle, 49; Craig Stadler, 53; and Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw, both 55, all made it. Crenshaw is in for the second straight year after missing every cut since 1997, even after closing with three straight bogeys.
Tom Watson could have been there, too, if not for a bogey on 17 and a triple-bogey on the last hole. He missed by a measly stroke.
'It was all defense today,' Watson said. 'I let them kick a field goal and let them run all the way back for a touchdown.'
Fifteen players have one guy to thank for their extended stays at Augusta. Zach Johnson was 3 under through 15 holes, but he staggered home with three straight bogeys and the cut stayed at 8 over.
One of those who sneaked in is new daddy and Masters rookie Brett Quigley, who will be thrilled that an already long week will be a little longer.
Besides Els, Sergio Garcia and Colin Montgomerie also went home early. For a second straight year, no amateurs made the cut. That means U.S. Amateur runner-up John Kelly won a sterling silver cup as the low amateur. Kelly shot a pair of 77s.
Darren Clarke pulled his game together a little too late.
Even with bogeys on the last two holes, Clarke shot a 1-under 71 Friday -- a 12-stroke turnaround from the first round. But his 83 on Thursday put him 10 over for the tournament, two strokes above the cutline.
It's only the third time he's missed the cut in 10 trips to Augusta.
'Strangely enough, I didn't play that badly yesterday. Today I played just a little bit better,' he said. 'I had a lot of chances. Almost gave me a chance to make the cut there.
'Just a few things didn't go for me.'
Clarke made only one birdie and seven pars on Thursday to go with eight bogeys and two doubles. He made three birdies Friday but was bogey-free until those last two holes.
'I played really nice today, really nice,' he said. 'Yesterday was really disappointing. I didn't come here to do that. But I'm not the only one who's done that at Augusta.'
At least Clarke had a nice fallback plan.
'I'm back to the beach in the Bahamas,' Clarke said with a grin. 'Bye-bye.'
Somebody alert the alumni association at Brigham Young University.
Dean Wilson and Mike Weir, teammates and roommates at BYU, are paired together for the third round of the Masters. The two are at 3-over 147, five strokes off the lead.
Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, and Wilson, who is playing his first Masters, posted identical 75-72s.
Stewart Cink doesn't need to look at the course statistics to tell you what the toughest hole is at Augusta.
The par-4 No. 1, without a doubt.
'You're always nervous, always anxious,' Cink said. 'That hole is just wicked. I think that green is the hardest out there.'
Not exactly. No. 1 was the ninth-toughest hole Friday, playing at 4.291 strokes. The par-4 11th was the hardest, at 4.593 strokes.
No. 1 did rank as the second-toughest hole Thursday.
'Part of that might have something to do with people puking,' Cink said, 'but it's a hard hole.'
Steve Stricker, Bernhard Langer and amateur Richie Ramsay were the only players to not make a birdie in the first two rounds. None made the cut. ... Seve Ballesteros' return to the Masters was a short one. The two-time former champion, playing Augusta for the first time in four years, was last at 22-over 166. His score was so ugly it wasn't posted on the 18th green leaderboard.
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