Fred Couples grabs the lead at Masters

Fred Couples of the United States gestures after

Fred Couples of the United States gestures after sinking a birdie putt on the 15th hole during the second round of the 2012 Masters Tournament. (April 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

advertisement | advertise on newsday

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There are all sorts of ways to get around Augusta National Golf Club. Tame it with power, coax it with a good short game or conquer it with knowledge. Occasionally, someone even can subdue it by meeting it eye-to-eye, one old-timer to another.

"Can I win? I believe I can, yes," the venerable Fred Couples, 52, said after he shot 5-under-par 67 Friday on the venerable course and tied Jason Dufner for the lead at 5 under overall through two rounds of the Masters.

Having the name Couples at the top of the leader board might seem like a 1992 flashback, except that Rory McIlroy, one of five tied for second at 4 under, was only 2 years old at the time. "It's great to see him up there. It just adds a little more spice to the weekend," said McIlroy, who shot 69 and was even with Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson.

That is a noteworthy group of players who have either won majors or come close. It doesn't even count Phil Mickelson, who shot an inspired 68 Friday to get to 2 under. But no one stood out more than Couples, who has made this a senior golfer's rite of spring.

Two years ago, he was the Masters first-round leader with a 66. Last year, he shot 68 in the second round to get into contention at 5 under, five strokes behind McIlroy. This time, Couples became the oldest second-round leader in the tournament's 76-year history and the oldest leader after any round since Jack Nicklaus was the first-round pacesetter at age 53 in 1993.

"I feel like I'm very young when I get here," Couples said. "You know, I've said it for 28 years: This is my favorite golf tournament in the world. I think everyone gets so excited to come here. It's the first major. It's Augusta. The course is beautiful. I feel like I just really, really enjoy playing here."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

It shows in that he has the best career scoring average at the Masters. He continued that trend despite having bogeyed the first hole on a gray, windy, cold Friday morning. He never made another bogey after the sixth, and birdied five of the final 12 holes -- converting a few times when he knocked it close, and sinking 35- and 25-footers on Nos. 9 and 15, respectively.

It wasn't easy out there, witnessed by Tiger Woods' 75 in which he dropped and kicked his 9-iron after a poor tee shot on the 16th.

Dufner occasionally struggled, such as the chunked and bunkered pitch that led to a double-bogey 5 on the fourth hole. Mostly, though, he was poised and effective.

Dufner, who lost a late lead at the PGA Championship last August, does not have the suave manner of Couples. He appears a bit rough around the edges, right down to his exaggerated wristy waggle before a swing. But his game is solid and his temperament is even.

"There's a lot more going on out there than it appears," said Dufner, a friend of fellow Auburn alumnus Charles Barkley. "I feel like I have the same emotions and same thought processes as a lot of guys, but I seem to not show it."

Dufner is different from the outspoken Barkley. It is no surprise that Dufner and Couples took different routes to the final group.

As McIlroy said: "There's a lot of different ways to get the ball around the golf course. That's Augusta in a nutshell."

Subscribe to Newsday’s sports newsletter for stories, photos and videos about your favorite New York teams plus national sports news and events.

Comments now uses Facebook for our comment boards. Please read our guidelines and connect your Facebook account to comment.

You also may be interested in: