AUGUSTA, Ga. - Fred Couples still has a chance to be history's standard bearer, if only his back can hold out. The 50-year-old can become the oldest player to win the Masters if he can overcome a five-stroke deficit and overtake some of the best golfers in the world.

"You know, I need 65 or 66," he said after shooting 4-under par 68 to finish the third round 7 under. "It would be a miracle, but we'll see."

Couples was here in 1986, a 26-year-old shooting 72 on Sunday to tie for 31st, when Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at 46. "Well, he had an amazing last day. That's what I've got to do," he said, referring to Nicklaus' 65.

It looked as though Couples was out of miracle range until he made a birdie on 14, then chipped in for eagle at 15 to make him 8 under, before he bogeyed 18. "I have one more round. I think I can still play this course," he said, hinting that it has been hard on his chronic bad back. "I do ride a cart every now and then on the Champions Tour and this thing is a beast to walk."

 

Poulter fizzles

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The one player not swept up by the back nine excitement was Ian Poulter, who had seemed finally ready to grab a major title. Playing in the final group with fellow Englishman Lee Westwood, he began the round tied for the lead and finished six back.

Poulter pulled his tee shot on No. 1 and although he saved par there, never did grow confident with his driving. "Not obviously what I was after today," he said after his 74. "I'm a few shots adrift of where I wanted to be. I'm not overly happy right now."

 

Mahan makes a move

Hunter Mahan made the most pronounced jump, from 2 under in to contention. Mahan, who might have been a major figure in the finish at Bethpage last June had his near perfect shot on 16 not caromed hard off the flagstick, shot 68 and is six strokes back.