Dulac: As always, Couples a cool customer

One shot off the lead after two rounds, one of the 'cool guys' works his magic again

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Everybody loves Fred Couples.

Women dig his looks. Guys fawn over his oily swing and awesome power.

Playing partners like him because he saunters around the golf course, never getting flustered.

He is, well, just cool.

"You know, I'm cool, but I can be a jerk, too," Couples said, drawing laughs.

While all around him seem to plod and grind their way around the Augusta National Golf Club, trying to make a run at a major championship, Couples looks as if he's window shopping in Shadyside when he plays in the Masters.

Of course, he looks that way no matter where he plays. It's just that he makes it look so easy here, amid the Georgia pines.

He looks, well, just cool.

"I think there are a lot of great guys on the tour, and I've been around so long that I've got that little cliche of being a cool guy," Couples said. "There are young guys and they are pretty cool guys. I don't know some of the guys that aren't too cool for a reason -- because they are not cool guys like the rest of us."

Couples is more than just cool. He is tied for second after the second round at the 77th Masters, a position that usually would be surprising for a 53-year-old -- except that it is Couples, a former Masters champion who does wonderful things at Augusta National.

He followed his opening 68 with a 71 on Friday, thanks to a birdie at the final hole, and his 5-under 139 total has him a shot from the lead held by Jason Day heading into the weekend.

Surprised? Don't be.

Couples did this last year, too, when he was the 36-hole leader with the same 139 score.

The question now is: Can he do it for four rounds?

Augusta National has not been kind to Couples on the weekend, at least not lately. In his past 15 rounds on the weekend here, Couples has bettered 70 just once.

"Am I good enough to play four good rounds in a row on a course like this?" Couples said. "It didn't happen last year. I was 4-over pretty fast on Saturday, which was a real bummer. And then on Sunday, you know, I played well enough to, I feel like, finish in a good spot.

"But you know, when I get to be a certain age and I don't start driving it where, on the last hole, I have a 4- or 5-iron in there, it's going to be impossible for me to play well here, physically impossible.

"If I can drive it close to these long hitters -- if they are hitting 9-irons and I'm hitting an 8, then I'm still right there and I can still do that. But when this course becomes, you know, middle- to long-irons every hole, you can forget it."

Couples has this kind of magic at Augusta National:

On No. 18, after hitting his approach 8 feet behind the hole, Couples had to wait for playing partner Dustin Johnson to play out of the greenside bunker. Because Johnson was in the bunker, Couples and Branden Grace were not allowed to mark their ball until all players were on the green.

While he was waiting, Couples' ball mysteriously began to roll back toward the hole, creeping 3 feet closer to the cup.

"Branden tapped me on the shoulder and says, 'Your ball's rolling,' " Couples said. "I was looking at Dustin, and I looked and it trickled down 3 feet maybe. You know, it made the putt a lot easier."

Couples, who won the green jacket in 1992, has 11 top-10 finishes at the Masters. He is also the tournament's all-time leader in scoring average (71.89), a statistic that might come as a surprise to such multiple champions as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.

Last year, when he was holding the 36-hole lead, Couples said he would be so delighted if he won the Masters, he would retire.

He was reminded of that Friday.

"I'm going to quit when I win this thing," Couples said. "I swear to God I'm going to retire. It's probably not ever going to happen, but I'm going to retire."

Nah.

He's too cool for that.

mobilehome - golf

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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