Masters 2012: Happy Couples thrives on course he loves
RORY McIlroy was not even three when Fred Couples won the 1992 Masters, but yesterday they were locked in battle at Augusta National.
At 52, Couples became the oldest player ever to lead the tournament at halfway when a best-of-the-day 67 put him alongside fellow American Jason Dufner.
But 22-year-old McIlroy was only one behind along with Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson as the opening major of the season once again offered up all sorts of intriguing possibilities this weekend.
The young Northern Irishman was seeking redemption, having led by four after 54 holes last year and then shooting 80.
Westwood would have been hoping that a closing double bogey for a second-round 73 was just a blip on the road to finally ending his wait for a major title.
Garcia was in the same boat after having had even more top five finishes than Westwood – nine to eight – and Watson was trying to become the third different left-hander to win in the last ten years. But Couples, sixth and 15th the last two years, trumps all that with another chance to become the oldest major champion in history.
“Very shocking," America's Presidents Cup captain said of his position.
“But I've said it for 28 years [his debut came in 1983] – this is my favourite golf tournament in the world. I feel like I'm very young when I get here.
“For me to be a part of this it's really amazing, but I feel like I can get it around and figure out how to shoot a score on this course.
“I stand out there and say What the hell' a lot – what do I have to lose here?
“Can I win? I believe I can, yes.
“Obviously there's stress out there, but when you're playing here I'm not going to let too many things bother me. It's so beautiful. You can't say it's your favourite place and then break a club on the fourth hole on Saturday!"
McIlroy is certainly not dismissing the challenge of Couples.
“He always seems to play well here," said the US Open champion. “He still has the length to play this golf course and the more times you come back here the more you feel comfortable on it. It's great to see him up there and just adds a little more spice to the weekend.
“He's just cool – I hope I'm that cool when I'm 52 – and he's good fun."
McIlroy, who has put an opening double bogey on Thursday behind him, added: “I'll just go out there and try and post a good number and see where that leaves me.
“There's a lot of guys that will think they have a chance over the next two days.
“I feel like I've improved a lot as a player over the last 12 months and I think that's showed in how I've played this year and obviously at the end of last year as well."
He has only once finished outside the top five since last August.
Dufner is not to be discounted easily either. In golf's last major, the USPGA Championship eight months ago, he was five clear entering the closing stretch, but lost in a play-off to Keegan Bradley.
World No.1 Luke Donald was four over and nine adrift after adding a 73 to his first day 75. He said: “I'm going to have to go low. I need to post 67 or 66 and get into red numbers [under par] and see where that puts me."
The conditions were certainly right for Donald to try to make a move through the field as he started his third round yesterday – and he found a spectacular way to start doing precisely that.
The Englishman, who survived the halfway cut with only a stroke to spare, two-putted the difficult first for par, missed a birdie chance on the long next after coming up just short of the green with his second shot, but then pitched in for an eagle two on the 350-yard third.
It instantly moved him up from 47th to 33rd and gave him hope that it could be the special day he needed to have any chance.
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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