On a sunny Friday afternoon, with swirling Georgia winds pushing through the pines, it appeared that Augusta National was on its way to pushing back against the abundance of low scores as the leaders began to give shots back in round two. However, as leaders such as Lee Westwood, with his double bogey 6 on 18 faltered, an old familiar face arose to stake his claim at capturing his second Master’s title.
At the beginning of the week there was not much talk surrounding veteran Fred Couples’ chance at capturing the 2012 Masters. However, as Couples marched through the front nine, birdying seven, eight and nine on his way to a front nine 33, the crowds began to take notice and the gallery following Couples began to grow.
Not to disappoint them, Couples continued his solid play on the back carding a bogey free 34 placing him in a tie for first with Jason Dufner, who posted his second sub par round of the week with his two under 70.
The big question for Couples is whether his 52 years will be a benefit or detriment as he prepares to try and repel some of the top young stars who all posted solid Friday rounds to get back into contention.
History is not on Couples side as the oldest player to ever capture a Masters was Jack Nicklaus at age 46 in 1986. Despite the mounting reasons not to bet on Couples over the weekend one cannot help but think that Couples silky smooth swing and hot putter, which was in full form on Friday, could allow Couples to stick around through Sunday evening.
Who is the Biggest Challenger to Couples?
As anticipated, several of the top names in golf posted impressive rounds to get themselves back into the mix for the weekend. Of them, there is not one who commands more attention than the world’s number two ranked golfer, Rory McIlroy. With his three under 69, McIlroy sits just two shots back of Couples at minus four and must be a favorite for many golf enthusiasts going into the weekend.
Despite McIlroy’s insurgence to the top, there are several other players who may also challenge this weekend. Sergio Garcia played a brilliant front nine and held off some erratic shots on the back to post a four under 68 to get him to within two. However, despite all of the solid play, as Sergio is known to do, the bogey on 18 may stick with him a lot longer than he will admit, which could spell doom for the Spaniard over the weekend.
Phil Mickelson shook off early bogeys that saw his total balloon to as much as two over on the front nine. Mickelson was able to shrug off the slow start and birdie 17 and 18 to get back to red figures at minus 2, a feat that is sure to give him renewed confidence.
All of these players are sure to be in the mix come Sunday, and if we get a final round with one of these players and Couples, the interest in the Masters is sure to explode.
Eating My Own Words
Just 24 hours ago I sat here and wrote that there was no way that Henrik Stenson was going to be able to recover from his quadruple bogey eight on 18 to be in contention. In fact, if I was a betting man, I would have assumed that Stenson had a better chance of missing the cut then he did of making a renewed charge. However, as is the case with many professionals, Stenson’s ability to bounce back and silence his critics with his one under par 71 that places him in a tie for 12th position.
The Charge That Never Came….Again
As has been the case recently, Tiger once again prepared for a charge that never came. Birdying two of the first three holes to get back to two under; it looked like Woods could possibly climb up the leader board. Woods erratic tee play and inability to make medium range putts spelled his doom as he went on to play the next 16 holes at five over, placing him for all intensive purposes, out of contention.
Despite all of the moves made by the young stars and the old veterans, Augusta once again taught us that the course rewards consistency, not flash. As players like Couples who have made a career off of staying in the fairway and hitting greens in regulation, many of the long ball hitters such as Woods and Bubba Watson have been unable to capitalize on their length due to their inability to consistently play from the short grass.
Coming down the stretch it appears that the players who will reach the top will not be those with an exceptionally impressive tee game, but instead, the ability to play precision irons to sports on the green that pose the least amount of danger. As was shown by approaches such as Mickelson’s on 11, Augusta National is just waiting for a player to take for granted their club choice or the wind direction. If they do Augusta will spit players shots back at them with a vengeance.
Only the weekend now stands in between the contenders and their ultimate prize that, old or young, represents the most prestigious in all of golf.