AUGUSTA, GA. – Every spring at Augusta National the azaleas bloom, "patrons" suddenly become enamored of pimento cheese sandwiches that taste like Spackle, and Fred Couples spends two rounds at the Masters contending with kids young enough to be … his kids.
On Friday, Couples shot his second 71 of the tournament to enter the weekend tied for sixth, while many supposed and younger contenders packed up after missing the cut.
"I say the same thing every year," Couples said. "I feel great about playing here, I'm very excited about playing here, and then when you see me in the parking lot on Saturday night, I'm dejected every year."
Couples, 54, is the only player who has been in the top 10 at the Masters after 36 holes each of the past five years. In his past five Masters appearances, he has been ninth, seventh, first, second and seventh entering the weekend.
Famous for his good looks and easy demeanor, Couples this year looks close to his age. He's grayer and thicker through the middle. He still spends breaks in play stretching his iffy back. He also looks loose and happy at Augusta National, where he chats with fans and walks down the fairways, as legendary golf writer Dan Jenkins wrote, "like he's walking his dog."
Couples was one of six players aged 50 or older who made the cut. It's a tough course for most 50-somethings, because short hitters are at a marked disadvantage, and Augusta National's hills tend to wear out the legs of older players.
The latter might affect Couples on the weekends, but the former doesn't apply. Couples blasts the ball past younger playing partners with his long, laconic swing.
"Can I win it?" Couples said. "Yeah. That's why I'm here."
Luck occasionally comes into play, too, as if the Masters loves Couples as much as he loves the tournament. He's won only one major title, the 1992 Masters, and he won in part because his tee shot to the par-3 12th hit the front bank and miraculously stayed dry.
Friday, Couples hit his tee shot at the 12th farther left than his famous shot in 1992, and this one also hit the shaved bank, rolled back … and stopped short of Rae's Creek.
"Well, I will say I got very, very lucky," Couples said.
Since 2011, Couples is a combined 18 under in the first two rounds of the Masters, and eight over on the weekend.
"I'm not here just to play golf and play golf and think that I can't compete on this course," Couples said. "I can't compete with these guys over a year, but in one week I can compete, and I have to do it tomorrow."