Like old times, Couples in contention at the Masters

By Rex HoggardApril 12, 2013, 10:09 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The “cool jerk,” his words not ours, is at it again.

For all those who tuned into the season’s first major title bout don’t adjust your channel, you haven’t stumbled onto a Champions Tour event, although a quick once-over of Friday’s leaderboard had a distinct over-50 feel.

Fred Couples, all 53 years of smooth swinging swagger, “butchered” the seventh hole, rebounded with birdies at Nos. 8, 12 and 18, and enters the weekend chasing history – again.

Last year, the king of cool entered the weekend tied for the lead but faded with a 75-72 finish. In 2010, he began the back nine Sunday with visions of a second green jacket dancing through his often misunderstood mind only to finish alone in sixth place.

“It seems like the same old course for me,” said Couples, who posted a 71 Friday and was tied for the lead.

And the same old Freddie.

The Masters and Couples is, in every way, a perfect marriage, complete with good times and bad.

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In 29 trips down Magnolia Lane, he’s missed the cut just twice and is one of the few players to ever hit for the cycle at the peach tree park – having finished first (1992), second (1998) and third (2006).

If there was a senior division at the annual invitational at Augusta National Couples would be a stone-cold lock, but behind the smooth exterior is a competitor that has his gaze fixed on the championship flight, regardless of his status among the AARP set.

“When he comes here it is a course that just fits his eye,” said Couples’ caddie, Cayce Kerr. “He’s so happy, it’s exhilarating. He enjoys the walk.”

And we enjoy the watch. It’s impossible not to.

If Jack Nicklaus’ historic victory at the former fruit nursery in 1986 was one for the ages, a Couples championship on Sunday would be one for the ageless.

Blame it on technology, which has allowed Boom Boom to maintain a respectable driving average this week (he’s currently ranked near the top of the field with a 284-yard average); genetics; Anatabloc, the anti-inflammatory medication that Couples’ endorses; or, maybe most importantly, experience.

On a day that featured swirling winds that baffled many younger players, the ageless sage seemed unfazed.

“My caddie has a wind chart and the wind was blowing downwind on No. 2 so three hours later, you go back and you stand on the 12th tee. You can’t stand there and say I know it’s coming into my face, but I’m not really sure. But I feel pretty comfortable on some of these shots,” Couples said.

Whatever the tonic, Augusta National is the ultimate anti-aging cream for a man who will enter the World Golf Hall of Fame next month.

There was no surprise as Couples completed his round in gusting winds that kept the field guessing on Day 2. Not from Freddie, not from the Masters masses who so easily shun the status quo when it comes to Couples.

Not that Couples gave himself much of a chance of making history earlier in the week. During Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest, he hit the ball so badly he did the unthinkable – racing to the practice tee for an emergency session that lasted 45 minutes. The turnaround, said Kerr, was nothing short of miraculous. The result, at least through two laps, has been downright magical.

If a 53-year-old champion is not exactly the norm, Augusta National has a history of honoring its elders, and it’s not just Couples. Just three spots down the leaderboard sits 55-year-old Bernard Langer, who has posted matching 71s this week and is tied for 13th.

“I always thought Freddie with his length could win it,” Langer explained. “We’re just as good as ball-strikers as the young guys, just not as long.”

If a Couples/Langer shootout on Sunday is enough to send 50-somethings everywhere into a frenzy, know there will be collateral damage if such a scenario – however unlikely – plays out. Just a hunch, but the long putter – which both use – likely wouldn’t survive the weekend if those two defied the odds.

Couples, however, has made conventional wisdom a five-stroke underdog at Augusta National. As strange as it may seem that on the same day a 14-year-old was issued a one-stroke penalty for slow play a 53-year-old would race into the hunt, it is what we’ve come to expect from Couples.

In a moment of déjà vu, Couples was asked what he would do on Sunday if he shattered the grey ceiling on Sunday and collected his second green jacket 21 years after donning his first.

“I’d quit,” he smiled. “Play golf, but not this hard.”

That’s funny coming from a guy who has always made it look so easy.

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Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.

The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.

The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.

After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.

“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”

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Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.

Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.

“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.

To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.

“More punishment,” he said.

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DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.

Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.

Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.

It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.  

With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.

Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.

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TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 3:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:

• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.

• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.

• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”

• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.

• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.

• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.