AUGUSTA, Ga. – Bolt the front door. Disable the doorbell. Leave the phone off the hook.
Trust me on this one: You’ll want to cut yourself off from society for the next two days and not look back.
Whatever your plans were, cancel ‘em ASAP – even if it means turning that honey-do list into a honey-don’t list.
It’s time to camp out in front of the boob tube and put some conforming grooves into those couch cushions, because the 76th Masters Tournament is turning into one for the ages.
Those ages are 52 and 22, and they represent the number of years on earth for the two biggest stories entering the final two rounds.
Fred Couples first started playing in the Masters back in 1983, winning his first and only major championship here in 1992. Since then, he has sashayed and sauntered his way into the hearts of golf fans, a favorite based on his easygoing demeanor and exceptionally smooth swing.
Perhaps more than anything, though, Freddie has won over the masses because his game blooms with the azaleas every April. On the most important and most revered golf week on the annual calendar, he always plays his best golf.
It’s happening again this week, with his score of 5-under 139, tied for the 36-hole lead. No fact or statistic can put his rally up the leaderboard into better context than this: Jack Nicklaus’ victory on this vaunted soil as a 46-year-old in 1986 is largely considered one of the greatest feats by an elder statesman in the history of the game; Couples is a half-dozen years older than Jack was at the time.
“I've said it for 28 years,” he imparted. “This is my favorite golf tournament in the world.”
It’s quickly becoming a favorite for Rory McIlroy, too – despite his final-round foibles of a year ago. As you’ll recall, the youngster held a lead entering the back-nine on Sunday, only to hit his 10th hole tee shot into some rarely seen cabins en route to a triple bogey and eventual T-15 finish.
Maybe there’s something to be said for dealing with adversity. McIlroy walked off the final green laughing with his caddie, then hung in while reporters fired questions about his collapse. Two months later, he won the U.S. Open in historic fashion, claiming the title at Congressional by eight strokes.
And now he’s back in the mix once again at Augusta, thanks to rounds of 71-69 that leave him one shot off the lead going into the weekend.
“It's nice. I wouldn't say I'm in a position to win yet, but we'll see what happens,” McIlroy conceded. “It will definitely be nice to feel like I'm in a good position going into Sunday.”
If you can’t get excited about a leaderboard that includes the game’s best older player and best younger player, then it may be time to throw your fan card out with last year’s pimento cheese sandwiches.
But your eyeballs shouldn’t be super-glued to the TV screen for Couples and McIlroy alone. The list of contenders includes plenty of intriguing stories, each worthy of attention.
There’s Jason Dufner, the co-leader, who is establishing himself as a big-game hunter in the major championships.
There’s Lee Westwood, the world’s third-ranked player, who is seeking to shed that Best Player To Have Never Won A Major title.
There’s Sergio Garcia, the mercurial former phenom, who is trying to finally claim a major after so many years of close calls.
There’s Bubba Watson, the big-hitting ball of energy, who attacks courses with a creativity unparalleled in the game today.
There’s Louis Oosthuizen, the former Open Championship winner, who continually showes his resiliency.
And that’s just the players within one shot of the lead.
Throw in former champions Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, as well as perennial wannabes like Jim Furyk and Nick Watney, and it’s a leaderboard chock full of storylines, any of which can come true in the form of a green jacket come Sunday.
One of the few players it doesn’t include is the game’s most compelling and polarizing figures. Tiger Woods enters the third round in a share of 40th place, eight shots off the lead. And yet, that news alone should be enough to keep you on the couch. The unknown makes for dramatic theater.
So get ready, my fellow golf fans. Prepare yourself for two full days of lockdown mode, watching the Masters until the last putt drops.
If not, you’re bound to miss something. And there could be many fascinating somethings to be missed.