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A heady tale of two former Masters Champions

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Rob Hodgetts | 06:19 UK time, Saturday, 7 April 2012

Two past champions, two very different rounds. Fred Couples defied his 52 years to breeze into a share of the Masters lead; Tiger Woods appeared a man beset by demons as he fought to stay in the tournament.

Couples fired a stunning 67 to join fellow American Jason Dufner at the top of the leaderboard, 20 years after claiming the Green Jacket.

With a laid-back, easy-going demeanour, long, smooth swing and an ability to keep performing at the Masters, Couples is a firm crowd favourite.

"He's just cool. I hope I'm that cool when I'm 52," said Rory McIlroy.

Despite being beset by back problems, Couples - nicknamed "Boom Boom" earlier in his career because of his power - is a course specialist at Augusta and went close as recently as 2010 when he finished sixth after leading with a first-round 66.

"For someone of 52 to still be competitive at the highest level is a remarkable effort," said BBC commentator Ken Brown, who first played with him in the 1984 Open at St Andrews.

"He was a huge hitter then and he has maintained that lovely rhythm. It's amazing how far he still hits it which makes him very competitive around Augusta.

American Fred Couples won his last and only Masters in 1992. Photo: Getty

"Playing good golf in your 20s is hard enough but it gets increasingly harder due to flexibility. You've also got to have the resilience to enjoy hard competitive golf, but it appears to be an easy game for him, which allows him to carry on a bit longer.

"The crowd could make a huge impact. Everyone loves Freddie and if he can hold his nerve there could be some huge roars at the weekend."

Couples was also third in 2006 after being paired with eventual winner Phil Mickelson in the final round, and came second behind Mark O'Meara in 1998. And he holds the joint record of 23 consecutive made cuts (from 1983-2007) along with Gary Player.

His 1992 win featured an iconic chip, from just a foot or so above the water of Rae's Creek, after his tee shot to the par-three 12th came up short and defied gravity to lodge on the bank.

There is no reason Couples shouldn't stay in the mix, though, other than fatigue and his back playing up, but should he win again on Sunday, he would become the oldest Masters champion, ahead of Jack Nicklaus, who was 46 when he won in 1986. "I feel like I'm very young when I get here," said Couples, who traded the world number one spot with Nick Faldo in 1992.

"To win it once was truly amazing, and to play well here a lot, I think, is because I really know the golf course.

"I believe I can win."

If he does, he would also be quizzed in the Butler Cabin by CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz, who was his roommate during their time on the University of Houston golf team.

Woods's belief, meanwhile, must have disappeared as quickly as the control of his swing, as the four-time champion pulled a succession of tee shots and hit a host of wayward irons. Cursing, dropping clubs in despair and even kicking one on the 16th tee, the former world number one had the air of a man with terminal frustration and no ideas left.

The pre-tournament favourite is caught between two swings, two philosophies. There are the old moves of ex-coach Hank Haney and the new patterns of Sean Foley. On top of that, Foley's short-game technique is creeping into Woods's long game. All are conflicting. And despite a stunning win a few weeks ago, Woods is struggling to override the problem when it occurs. How ironic, that Couples's long-term caddie and best friend Joe LaCava accepted the offer to work with Woods not so long ago.

But for all his angst, Woods ground out a 75 to make the cut by two in circumstances that might have shattered a lesser man.

"It's amazing the way he keeps grinding even though he is playing like a drain," said Brown.

"It's a testament to his fortitude that he just keeps going."

Commentating on American television, Faldo was less charitable.

"I think we can officially say that Tiger has lost his game - and his mind right now," he said. "He has not got a clue how to get the clubface onto the ball."

Woods maintains he is still in contention, but at eight shots adrift, he will have to equal the record for the biggest halfway comeback, set by Jack Burke in 1956.

Saturday is traditionally "Moving Day", when the field sorts itself out for the final push. And with 23 players under par and within five shots of the lead, there could be some traffic to negotiate.

World number two McIlroy, who looks well-placed just one shot adrift, as does third-ranked Lee Westwood, who led after the first round.

Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson are also four under, while three-time champion Mickelson is two further back.

"There's a lot of guys that will think they have a chance over the next two days," said McIlroy, who led for three rounds last year before collapsing.

"You look at the names on the leaderboard, and there isn't one style of golf.

"There's a lot of different ways to get the ball around the golf course. Some guys can do it with their short game and some guys can do it with their long game. That's Augusta in a nutshell."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Having had a few lessons recently for the first time, I can appreciate (to a certain extent) what Tiger is going through - changes to your swing can definitely mess up your game. It is a shame to see it, but it would be good for the tournament if he comes out today and shoots a low score. Shame about Lee's finish - I really have my doubts about his ability to win a major, something seems to get into his head when the pressure comes on. Nice to see Freddie up there, great round yesterday, hope for all the oldies still. Ultimately though, the tournament could be there for the taking for Rory - he's played solid so far, and is due the spectacular. Hard to see past him for my money...

  • Comment number 2.

    Wow, first - everyone sleeping in this morning???

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't think Lee's double bogey on 18 had anything to do with something in his head or pressure. He simply played a bad approach and was then then very unlucky that his pitch didn't come back down the slope on the green. Even his putt for par down the hill was a solid putt. Rory played the exact same poor approach to 18 but scrambled well for a par. I think Lee will have gotten over it fairly quickly and be delighted to be 1 off the lead at halfway. Oh and if you hadn't guessed i've lumped on Lee at 23/1....COME ON WESTY.

  • Comment number 4.

    Having been a massive Couples fan since watching him win the 1996 Players at Sawgrass, it's fantastic seeing him at the top of the Leaderbroad.

    However, this shouldn't be a surprise. Couples ALWAYS turns up for the Masters and his game could not be more suited to Augusta. He hits it a mile, and with a high cut. Though I have always found it a surprise that he has been so good on their greens as his putting has never had the rhythmic poetry of his golf swing.

    The key thing that may aid Couples is that he has been re-learning how to win with his recent success on the Champions Tour, and regardless of the quality of the field you play in, winning becomes a habit.

    And whilst I'm STILL heartbroken that Watson never won THAT Open playoff against Stuart Cink..... Freddie donning a 2nd green jacket after his injury problems, turbulent personal life and being interviewed by his College roommate would be an amazing story.

    And I may get burned for the following comment... But whilst Rory has the best looking swing I've ever seen.... Fred's swing of "I just drilled that 315 yards without trying" is my all-time favorite swing.

    C'mon Boom Boom!!

  • Comment number 5.

    #4 Augusta favours a draw not a cut. Hence Martin Kaymer unsuccessfully attempting to change his shot shape last year. Of course there are a few holes where a cut is favourable off the tee but in general it's a drawers course.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    Agree with Harry Vardon - a double bogey on day two is better than a double bogey at the end of day four!! Rory started with a double on day one and both are at -4 - there's nothing wrong with Lees head he just needs some luck, just look at Rory's round 4 last year and Darren Clarkes Open last year - one was unlucky at first which lead to an implosion and the latter rode his luck and stayed ahead of the pack.
    Not being in the last pairing today might help Lee but the one to watch is Sergio, don't be fooled by his demeanour.
    As for Tiger Woods, his petulant foul mouthed behaviour in my opinion should be stamped out, his game is a wreck and so inconsistent but the way he treats his family and conducts himself both privately and publicly - he deserves nothing more - he and he alone has created the situation he is in - luck on this occasion plays no part!

    But the golf is great - pity we should have to endure poor camera angles and shots - Agusta need to realise it could be done so much better and don't get me going on the terrible TV presenter that is Colin Montgomerie!!!!

  • Comment number 8.

    Agree with Jamesjt and totally disagree with Mike in Wilts - for me Woods has no place in the game - unless he starts to live his life properly, act with dignity and show humility. It doesn't help that he has very little personality but there is a way back if he can start acting responsibly - at the moment he doesn't deserve to win!

  • Comment number 9.

    #5 I agree that a draw favours many holes from a Tee shot perspective, however it is generally considered that a fade is the preferred option for approach shots particulary on the back nine. A faded approach shot also stops on hard and greens better than a draw.

    Jack Nickulas was a master of percentage fade play in that if he hit an approach shot straight or over-faded the approach he would be no more than 20 feet away, but if he nailed the approach he would inside 10ft.

    Freddies length despite fading the ball gives him, as it did Jack as huge advantage. But it will be Freddies putting that lets him down should he not win IMO.

  • Comment number 10.

    "Woods has no place in the game unless he starts to live his life properly." @ 8

    ** **

    Mmm, now let's see ... so one of the greatest golfers there's ever been has no place in the game unless he starts to live his life in a way that 'David Brooks' approves of.

    Hats off. Probably (even at this early stage) all over bar the shouting in the 'most ridiculous and risibly pompous comment on this thread' tournament. Yes, I think we can start measuring up for the jacket.

  • Comment number 11.

    Nice blog, at least a bit of honesty. My comment refers to your colleagues at Sky sports. Have they completly lost the plot. All I heard yesterday was Tiger this, Tiger that. I am starting to believe Tiger Woods owns Sky sports. e.g: 7 hole, Butch Harmen: " Good drive Tiger, that a boy, perfect, that is the Tiger of old". Ewen Murray "Tiger back to his old self". 2 shot 7 hole. Tiger is short of the geen and has to chip Butch Harmen " that's what happens when to drive out of place around here"
    Really, do the british golf fans have to be suject to such negative commemtary. Thank God there are still people like Peter Alliss and Ken Brown. Come on guys give us the truth.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    I live in South Africa and so get the American commentary as opposed to BBC or Sky. Nick Faldo and Ian Baker-Finch are pretty much spot-on about everything and are scathing of any bad behaviour. David Feharty is good for a giggle at times as well! Unfortunately, however, it seems that Tiger playing badly and throwing a tantrum is more interesting for broadcasters than Tiger playing well these days. CBS Sports rarely passes comment on 'Tiger-of-old' except remarks on changes of technique; he is treated like any other player and the tantrums are frowned upon seriously. Other broadcasters should take note.

  • Comment number 14.

    I think Rory will win (perhaps quite easily).

    Re Tiger, yes, the Sky guys get rather silly. There's too much focus on him. They spend so much time talking about TW that they end up spouting utter nonsense. When he's playing well ... 'he's totally back! ... what a player! ... can anyone else even challenge? ... oh my god, what a legend!"

    And then when he isn't ... 'this is the pits! ... worst he's ever played! ... he NEVER used to miss from inside 50 feet!"

    Bla Bla Bla. Hyperbole either way. They really should tone it down.

    However, let's remember that Tiger Woods dominated a game that can't be dominated for over a decade - he's a supernova sports star - and thus his quest to regain top dog status is a genuinely massive and ongoing story as far as golf goes.

  • Comment number 15.

    I saw Jason Dufner's name mentioned ONCE in that article, even though he is co-leader! He is still under the radar, don't be surprised to see him surprise a few people.

    I do fancy McIlroy to win it now though. He's barely out of second gear, yet is joint 3rd and is putting well. If he hits top form, he will win.

  • Comment number 16.

    In response to the Sky Coverage comments, I agree.

    It's an absolute travesty that the world's greatest abomination of a TV channel took away the rights of the world's greatest golfing tournament from the BBC, who usually present great coverage.

    Agree with #10 as well. Not a fan of Woods, but I'm not pompous enough to criticise his "moral code" as I don't know the guy, and as far as I'm concerned, the punishment from his behaviour comes in the horrible Golf Round he always plays when he loses the plot.

  • Comment number 17.

    I can understand the reaction to Tigers petulant behaviour especially as he's someone that youngsters have looked up to and seen as a role model in the past.

    Someone also mentioned his complete lack of personality and that has to be down to the fact that his life from a very young age (sure i've seen a tv clip of him when he was about 4 hitting a golf ball) was all about golf, like most sportsmen and women it is all they know.

    He does need to start setting a better example and could learn a lot from watching someone like McIllroy who last year imploded but took it on the chin with great humility and dignity and the next month tore the US Open apart.

    As for the eventual winner, head says McIllroy heart says Garcia.

  • Comment number 18.

    The coverage by Sky and BBC is both good except both have their dinosaurs in Allis and Cricthley - both these guys epitomise everything bad about the game from their snobbish heights - get rid of them both - unfortunately the Beeb has gone backwards as they do not dedicate enough time to it these days as we want 100% coverage.

    Tiger has lost the 2 most important aspects to his game - his temperament and his putting - he can't within without either.

    McIlroy to win by a canter.

  • Comment number 19.

    i like most of the comments that iv'e read, but i do think to take westwood out of the equation is sheer folly. I personally believe he does'nt like leading (unless by 12 or so) he needs a focus and now he's got one

  • Comment number 20.

    sick watching that tiger woods kick clubs, bang them on the ground, shout out, spit at the ground.. didnt he say he would be more respectful, more self controlled , more of a better person a better example to all.. in his contritonal public speach. he is a terroble example to all young plyers out there , he just cant control himself anymore , he needs to stop taking himself so seriously//

    oh as everyone now knows Rory is the best player in the world by far no contest

  • Comment number 21.

    @20....Everyone now knows that Rory is the best in the world!!!!! Do you care to substantiate that!!!!

  • Comment number 22.

    @20...6 over through 10..best player in the world.....get a grip!!!!!

  • Comment number 23.

    Great this 'Rory vs Tiger' Masters shootout, isn't it?

  • Comment number 24.

    Anyone tipping Garcia on these blogs is not a golfer. Garcia's putting at the best of times is woeful......... under pressure it is laughable.

    I'm afraid Lee Westwood also showed everyone why he will never win at Augusta today also.

    Rory's demise was the most worrying today. He was joking and playing about with Garcia at the end, but he needs to keep away from the "Monty's Ryder Cup loser boys" side of things.

    Should be a good final day tomorrow. Mickelson has to be in pole. Would like Hanson to do it, but he has to have one of the worst temperaments in golf. Once saw him hack up a tee at Wentworth like a deranged murderer after a bad shot.

  • Comment number 25.

    Cant beleive what I saw yesterday. Mclroy let tat loser Garcia distract him from IS JOB and turn the round into a circus// can you imane Tiger participating in an ironic hugging session.

    ANOTHER LEARNING EXPERIENCE.. dont get too pally with your playing partners it will suck out your concentration and then the focus for those short puts is done.
    Another Masters gone but this time for all the immature reasons you can think of.. NO ONE IS YOUR FRIEND on that golf course they are all your emenies when you tee off. leave the high fives and hugging for the locker room afterwards/

  • Comment number 26.

    I just think Tiger needs to take a total break - he needs to go away somewhere people cannot expect anything of him and cannot see him and neither can he affect them, the guy is obviously broken since what happened than night and in the days subsequently.

    sorry sorry sorry!!
    -
    poorgradpoorstudent

 

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