AUGUSTA, Ga. – Fred Couples couldn’t get the break on the 12th hole that he did in 1992, effectively ending any chance the 50-year-old had at becoming the oldest winner at Augusta National.
Knowing he needed to be aggressive to have any chance at catching Phil Mickelson at the Masters, Couples tried to land an 8-iron right at the pin on No. 12. But he hit it poorly, and the ball tumbled down the slope in front of the green.
He was in almost the exact same spot when he won in 1992, but that ball hung up in the grass. This one trickled into the water.
“That took a lot of steam out,” Couples said.
He would birdie his next two holes, and finished sixth, seven strokes behind Mickelson at 279.
“I finished well and I had a great week,” Couples said. “I have a game that’s suited to this course and what it means right now is I’m really disappointed in a few shots, but at the same time I’m glad to finish it out. So that’s pretty good for me.”
It was a good week for Couples.
After missing the cut the last two years, he looked an awful lot like the “Boom Boom” of old, shooting a 66 on Thursday to become the oldest player to hold the outright lead after the opening round of this tournament. A rough finish Friday appeared to take him out of contention, but he came back with a 68 on Saturday that left him five strokes behind third-round leader Lee Westwood.
“This is my all-time favorite spot,” Couples said. “I had a great time.”
CLOSE CALL: K.J. Choi, who only earned a trip to Augusta National three weeks ago with second place at the Transitions Championship, tied for fourth Sunday, finishing five shots behind Phil Mickelson. Add in PGA champion Y.E. Yang, who tied for eighth, and South Korea had two players in the top 10.
“In the past, the mindset of the Asian players was that when it comes to the Masters, there was a fear factor there, that we can’t do it,” Choi said. “But now I hope that this gives motivation for the younger players, other players, that they can do it at big tournaments like the Masters.”
Choi was actually even with Mickelson after a birdie on the 10th hole. But he unraveled on the 13th, a hole where he had made birdie the previous three rounds. From the fairway, he tugged his approach into the back bunker, leaving him a frightening shot down a steep slope toward Rae’s Creek.
He barely got it out of the sand, then three-putted for a bogey. Another bogey followed on the 14th.
This is the second time Choi was involved in a back-nine shootout at Augusta National, finishing third in 2004.
“It was exciting like 2004,” Choi said. “Only this year I think it was, on a personal level, it was better for me because my playing level has improved a lot compared to 2004. So I’m more satisfied.”
Not even playing all four rounds with Tiger Woods could faze him. This was the first tournament Woods had played since the sex scandal that made him tabloid fodder and the butt of late-night jokes, and all eyes were on him.
“I think we’re playing the Monday qualifier for Hilton Head tomorrow,” Woods joked. “No, it was a fun week. We have always had fun playing, with and against each other, and this was no exception.”
COME ON BACK, Y’ALL: Nick Watney’s 65 matched the low round of the Masters and earned him an invitation back for next year.
The top 16 and ties automatically qualify for next year’s Masters, and Watney finished alone in seventh place.
“It’s always nice to nail down an invitation,” said Watney, who began the day tied for 16th. “I felt like if I played a good round that would take care of itself. Then once I got off to a good start I just kind of wanted to keep it going and kind of ignored all the, tried not to get too lost in the moment. But it’s definitely nice to have an invitation back here next year.”
Also earning return trips were Lee Westwood; Anthony Kim; K.J. Choi; Hunter Mahan; Ricky Barnes; Ian Poulter; Miguel Angel Jimenez; Jerry Kelly; Ryan Moore; David Toms and Steve Marino. Winner Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Fred Couples and Trevor Immelman were already exempt as past champions.
EAGLE-EYED: There were 34 eagles at this Masters, three short of the tournament record set in 1991.
No. 15 produced the most, with 15. That’s three shy of the record for a single hole, also set on 15 and also in 1991. There were 10 on No. 13, three on No. 2 and two each on the seventh and 16th holes. There was one apiece on No. 8 and 14 – the one on 14 coming Saturday when winner Phil Mickelson holed out from the fairway.
Mickelson had also had an eagle on 13 Saturday, joining Dan Pohl (1982) and Dustin Johnson (2009) as the only players to make them on consecutive holes.
And Tiger Woods made four eagles, equaling the individual record for a single tournament.
“There’s a lot going on,” said Fred Couples, who eagled 15 on Saturday. “We haven’t really had this course, since they lengthened it, this dry and fast. So a lot of the holes are a little shorter than they normally are, which helps.”
ONE TAKE: Australia’s Nathan Green and Ryan Moore each aced the 170-yard 16th Sunday, only the second time there have been two holes-in-one in the same round at Augusta National.
Padraig Harrington of Ireland and Kirk Triplett did it in 2004 – playing in the same group, no less.
“It was disbelief a little bit at first,” Moore said. “I’m watching it, you can kind of see it and you hope your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. It’s the loudest roar I’ve ever heard in my entire life – certainly for me.”
The aces were the first at the Masters since Ian Poulter’s in 2008, which also came on 16. Of the 21 holes in one at the Masters, most – 12 – have come on No. 16.
With the pin tucked tightly on the left edge of the green, the pond a few feet away, Green used a 6-iron, Moore a 7-iron. Both balls landed in the middle of the green, well below the cup, but curved toward the hole and rolled ever-so-slowly into the cup.
“It’s a nice way to end the week,” said Moore, who shot a 68 and finished at 2 under.
For Green, it was a little bright spot in what was otherwise a dismal week. The Australian finished last, failing to break par in his first trip to the Masters.
“If you’re playing bad it’s not that much fun,” said Green, who shot 3-over 75 Sunday. “It’s just a disappointing last two days in some respects. But sort of a good way to finish, I suppose.”
Both receive a large crystal bowl for their efforts.
DIVOTS: Phil Mickelson played bogey-free Sunday on his way to his third green jacket. … Angel Cabrera, last year’s champion, finished in a tie for 18th at 1-under 287, 15 strokes behind Mickelson. … Pre-tournament favorite Ernie Els closed with a 68 to finish tied for 18th at 1-under.