Augusta - Fred Couples turned back the clock on Friday - back to 1992 perhaps - during a seven-birdie second round that even brought a fist pump from the 52-year-old and put him in a tie for the lead with Jason Dufner at Augusta National.
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"Can I win?" Couples said, repeating the question that so many are asking now. "Yeah, I believe I can, yes."
He shot 5-under 67, the same score he posted 20 years ago during the second round of what turned out to be one of the most crowd-pleasing wins in the history of the tournament.
"Standing out there, I said, 'What the hell,' a lot. What do I have to lose here?" Couples said.
Couples has been around the leaderboard before in his 50s. Two years ago, he opened with a 66 and became the oldest player to hold the outright lead after the first round at Augusta. Last year, he shot 68 on Friday to push his way into the top 10.
This time, he heads into the weekend with a chance to become the oldest major winner. He's six years older than Jack Nicklaus was when he won his sixth Masters on that unforgettable Sunday in 1986. Twenty players in the field weren't even born when Couples played his first Masters back in 1983.
He's not the only big name at the top of that leaderboard. Sergio Garcia shot a 4-under 68 to finish one shot back, tied with Rory McIlroy, who shot 69 and was also at 4 under.
"I know I'm playing well," said McIlroy, who overcame last year's final-round collapse at the Masters to win the US Open. "The recent results show that. I just wanted to come here and play, put myself in position to win another tournament, another major."
They were tied with South Africa's 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and England's Lee Westwood. Out early when the conditions at Augusta National were cold and
breezy, Oosthuizen took a double-bogey seven at the second and by the
turn he had shed three strokes.
But with the skies brightening,
he turned things around and three birdies in the last five holes allowed
him to duck back under par.
Westwood spent most of the day in the lead, but three-putted on the 18th green for a double-bogey to close his day at 1-over 73 and 4 under for the tournament.
"The double at the last (hole) was a disappointing way to finish," Westwood said. "But if you get out of position slightly on this course, it can punish you."
Phil Mickelson made six birdies during a round of 4-under 68 to pull to 2 under for the tournament.
Tiger Woods had nowhere near as good a day. Struggling with his swing for the second straight round, he opened with two birdies on the first three holes, but gave that all back and more. He shot 3-over 75 and was at 3 over for the tournament, closer to the cut line of 5 over than the lead.
Last year, he was seven back but came back to briefly grab the lead on Sunday before finishing fourth.
"One of the neat things about this tournament is the 10-shot rule," Woods said, referring to the rule that brings all players within 10 of the lead back for the weekend. "Anyone can win the golf tournament who makes the cut. Guys have won this from five, six down going into the back nine."
Couples, a winner on the senior tour two weeks ago, often ambles around these grounds, twirling a golf club, looking as if he's playing a leisurely weekend round instead of grinding through one of golf's toughest tests. On this day, his 106th competitive round at the course, all the scenes looked familiar: Freddie bending at the waist to stretch, reaching his hand into the back of his waistband to rub his aching back, squinting into the sunlight, wincing at the occasional twinge of pain.
"What would it take?" he said. "A lot more birdies, a lot more made putts." Maybe a painkiller or two.
He teed off into a fairway bunker on No 3, but spun the approach back to 5 feet and jammed the putt home for birdie No 1. He was pin high and 4 feet away on No 4, and suddenly, Couples was doing more than playing ceremonial golf - something he has always desperately wanted to avoid.
He hit a hybrid into the 15th green to 20 feet and barely missed the eagle putt. When he rolled in a 20-footer on 16 to get to 5 under, he pumped his fist and yelled "Bam."
Yes, folks, "Boom-Boom" is back in the mix.
He closed it out by salvaging par on No 18 with a chip from in front of the green that stopped, checked up, spun backward to about 2 feet for a stress-free putt. He doffed his cap, raised both fists and smiled that wide smile, knowing he'll be sleeping in late on Saturday - and sleeping on the lead.
Collated scores after the second round of the 76th Masters golf tournament at the par-72 Augusta National Golf Club:
139 - Jason Dufner (USA) 69-70, Fred Couples (USA) 72-67
- Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 68-72, Lee Westwood (ENG) 67-73, Sergio Garcia
(ESP) 72-68, Rory McIlroy (NIR) 71-69, Bubba Watson (USA) 69-71
141 - Paul Lawrie (SCO) 69-72, Matt Kuchar (USA) 71-70, Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP) 69-72
- Ben Crane (USA) 69-73, Charles Howell (USA) 72-70, Vijay Singh (FIJ)
70-72, Phil Mickelson (USA) 74-68, Peter Hanson (SWE) 68-74, Aaron
Baddeley (AUS) 71-71, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 71-71, Nick Watney (USA)
143 - Sean O'Hair (USA) 73-70, Jonathan Byrd (USA) 72-71,
Jim Furyk (USA) 70-73, Yang Yong-Eun (KOR) 73-70, Gary Woodland (USA)
144 - Zach Johnson (USA) 70-74 Ian Poulter (ENG) 72-72,
Fredrik Jacobson (SWE) 76-68, Hunter Mahan (USA) 72-72, Padraig
Harrington (IRL) 71-73, Justin Rose (ENG) 72-72, Francesco Molinari
145 - Adam Scott (AUS) 75-70, Hideki Matsuyama (JPN) 71-74
- Kevin Na (USA) 71-75, Webb Simpson (USA) 72-74, David Toms (USA)
73-73, Stewart Cink (USA) 71-75, Bill Haas (USA) 72-74, Geoff Ogilvy
(AUS) 74-72, Bae Sang-Moon (KOR) 75-71
147 - Kevin Chappell (USA)
71-76, Graeme McDowell (NIR) 75-72, Brandt Snedeker (USA) 72-75, Scott
Stallings (USA) 70-77, Martin Kaymer (GER) 72-75, Charl Schwartzel (RSA)
72-75, Tiger Woods (USA) 72-75
148 - Martin Laird (SCO) 76-72,
Scott Verplank (USA) 73-75, Anders Hansen (DEN) 76-72, Ross Fisher (ENG)
71-77, Robert Karlsson (SWE) 74-74, Bo Van Pelt (USA) 73-75, Steve
Stricker (USA) 71-77, Rickie Fowler (USA) 74-74, Keegan Bradley (USA)
71-77, Luke Donald (ENG) 75-73
149 - Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
(ESP) 74-75, Edoardo Molinari (ITA) 75-74, Patrick Cantlay (USA) 71-78,
Thomas Bjorn (DEN) 73-76, Angel Cabrera (ARG) 71-78 Kelly Kraft (USA)
74-75, Trevor Immelman (RSA) 78-71
Missed the cut
150 - John Senden (AUS) 74-76, Kim Kyung-Tae (KOR), 74-76
- Paul Casey (ENG) 76-75, Mike Weir (CAN) 72-69, Jose Maria Olazabal
(ESP) 75-76, Larry Mize (USA) 76-75, Harrison Frazar (USA) 73-78, Kyle
Stanley (USA) 75-76, Tom Watson (USA) 77-74
152 - Bernhard Langer (GER) 72-80, Rory Sabbatini (RSA) 72-80, Robert Garrigus (USA) 77-75, Ryan Palmer (USA) 75-77
- Chez Reavie (USA) 79-74, Ryo Ishikawa (JPN) 76-77, K.J. Choi (KOR)
77-76, Bryden Macpherson (AUS) 77-76, Johnson Wagner (USA) 79-74
- Ian Woosnam (WAL) 77-77, Mark Wilson (USA) 76-78, Darren Clarke (NIR)
73-81, Tim Clark (RSA) 73-81, Lucas Glover (USA) 75-79
155 - Simon Dyson (ENG) 78-77, Corbin Mills (USA) 74-81, Alvaro Quiros (ESP) 78-77
156 - Brendan Steele (USA) 76-80
159 - Randal Lewis (USA) 81-78, Ben Crenshaw (USA) 76-83
163 - Craig Stadler (USA) 81-82
164 - Sandy Lyle (SCO) 86-78
WD - Jason Day (AUS)