For Fred Couples, and also those who love to watch him play, sitting near the top of the leader board of the Masters after two rounds is just another rite of spring.
In 2010, for example, Couples was in sole possession of ninth place after 36 holes. A year later, he was seventh at that stage of the Tournament, and in 2012 and ’13, he stood in first and second place, respectively, when the first two rounds were complete.
He seems to find a way to put himself in the mix, and this year he has done it again, firing back-to-back 71s and finding himself tied for seventh.
Problem is, the 54-year-old has not always finished strong, especially the last three years, when he ended up T15, T12 and T13. So, he hopes to avoid the Saturday slide this time around.
And so do his fans.
Couples opened his 30th Masters with a coolly efficient round that left him tied for 12th after day one. Many of the pins were tucked, and the greens were fast and hard. But he nonetheless found a way to go out in 34, and then hang on to finish 1-under.
Conditions were even more difficult Friday, thanks to a swirling wind that sometimes gusted as high as 20 miles per hour and putting surfaces that were even firmer than the previous day.
But that did not deter Couples, as he once again went out in 34, posting birdies at Nos. 2, 3 and 8. He averted disaster at the 12th hole when his tee shot came up short. But instead of scurrying in Rae’s Creek, the ball hung in the grass of the bank, just as his ball had on the final day of his only Masters win, in 1992.
“I was so happy that the ball stayed up that I got a little nonchalant and flubbed the chip,” he said. “Which is why I made bogey.”
But he then made birdie on 13. And the only other blemish on his way home was a bogey at 17, after he pulled his drive left and had to punch out from among the pine trees.
“I feel good,” he said after his round. “It was a good day. And also a hard day. I think 71 is a good score.”
“Can I win this thing?” Couples asked out loud. “Of course I can. That is why I am here. But ask me that same question tomorrow. I need to play well on Saturday, which I have not done the past couple of years. I averaged 76 the last two Saturdays, and that is not too good.”
Couples said that his goal tomorrow is not to lose ground, and maybe even gain a little.
“I have to play really, really well to win,” he said. “And yes, I think that I can do that.”