AUGUSTA, Ga. - Tiger Woods isn't here. Either is Phil Mickelson. So this Masters leans on Fred Couples as The Man.
Couples is 54, and through that many holes over three rounds he is 1-under par, which is both surprising, given his bad back, and not surprising, given the way he plays Augusta National.
This is the 30th Masters for Couples, who won the green jacket in 1992 for his sole major victory. Consider that Jordan Spieth, the co-leader with Bubba Watson, is only 20 years old and was born the following year.
There's a reverence here for Couples. The fans often stand to applaud for him as well as cheer, special respect for a special golfer, and at this Masters he is the best known, and best liked, player in the field.
Another 50-year-old, Miguel Angel Jimenez from Spain, who smokes cigars and has a pony tail, is two shots out of the lead and, at 213, two shots ahead of Couples, who had a 73 after back-to-back one-under par 71s. Jimenez shot a 66 yesterday that tied a record for low score of players 50 and older at Augusta. Those two other players? Ben Hogan and Couples.
Couples is particularly wise and when it comes to golf, and particularly relaxed when it comes to playing Augusta National.
"It's just amazing, what he sees," Mark Chaney, the veteran caddie now working for Couples, told Sports Illustrated. "I've caddied in 21 Masters. Fred has played in 29. He sees things on the course that I never knew were there."
What isn't on the course this year is the so-called "Eisenhower Tree," the huge loblolly pine which grew on the left side of the 17th fairway. It fell victim to an ice storm this past winter and had to be taken down.
In 2013, Couples made a triple-bogey 7 Saturday on 17, coming in with a 77 after rounds of 68 and 71. This year he has made bogey 5 on the hole in each round. While not what he wanted, it was better than a 7.
"My average went down," said Couples after his round. "It wasn't bad. I actually played OK.
"It's a hard day playing at 2:15. The golf course is really firm and very tough. And the scores -- I mean, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth and I'm looking [at the board] at [Jonas] Blixt. Those guys are playing really tough. To shoot 70, 71 when you're near the lead is a really good score, and you should be proud of that."
Couples should be proud of Fred Couples. Although a full-time Champions Tour player, he enters some PGA Tour events, such as the Northern Trust Open at Riviera and the Masters -- he's a lifetime invitee because of the win -- and always seems to be hanging around the leader board.
"The course is longer," he said of Augusta. "The cast of characters is still the same . . . For me it's a lot of fun."
As it is for the fans who adore him.