AUGUSTA, Ga. — Westover Cemetery lies a couple of Bubba Watson drives south of Augusta National Golf Club, a fitting juxtaposition of real estate considering how many dreams of glory come to die on these grounds.
But the opposite seems to happen to Fred Couples when he turns his Mercedes-Benz courtesy car onto Magnolia Lane and pulls into the champions parking lot in front of the clubhouse.
This is the place he comes to be reborn.
The back pain goes away. The crooked shots fly straighter. The wayward putts start to find the hole.
How else do you explain that a 53-year-old part-time golfer will be playing in the final group of the third round of the Masters?
Couples, who has played one PGA Tour event this year and just three times on the Champions Tour, followed up his Thursday 68 with a 1-under-par 71 Friday as morning rain gave way to gusty winds and the sun burst through the gloom to bake the greens. He’s one back of Australian Jason Day, who carries the golfing dreams of an entire continent on his slender shoulders. I mean, in the name of Greg Norman, no Aussie has ever won the Masters.
Neither has someone old enough to carry an AARP card in the side pocket of his golf bag.
If Tiger Woods roars back to win after the near-perfect wedge shot he clanked off the pin and into the pond on 15 conspired to put him three off the lead, it would be impressive. If Couples goes on to win, it would be ungodly.
The man is old enough to be Jason Day’s dad. He’s old enough to be Tianlang Guan’s grandfather. He’s so old he was alive when the name Eisenhower meant you were talking about the current president instead of the tree that used to snare the First Hacker’s tee shots on the 17th hole.
It’s probably not going to happen, and even Couples knows that. He’s teased us before, finishing sixth in 2004, third in 2006 and sixth in 2010. And the oldest major champion ever, Julius Boros, was five years Couples’ junior when he won the 1968 PGA Championship at 48.
“It’s hard,” Couples said. “I’m not going to kid you. I mean, it’s a hard course. I’m really tired. I’m swinging hard at every drive I hit. There’s only 10 or 12 of them. But (being) 53 and all the practice. I’ve never been here on Sunday (before the Masters), but I came on Sunday because I was playing so poorly.”
Despite his age and his back and his graying hair, the man they call “Boom-Boom” can still boom-boom it out there. And that’s important at Augusta National, stretched out a few years ago to just over 7,400 yards.
ESPN’s Curtis Strange said it isn’t a question of Couples’ ball striking but his nerves. This is a young man’s brute of a course; pour a little major championship pressure on top, and any 50-something could melt.
But don’t bury Freddie’s chances just yet. Halfway through the Masters, he’s still alive and swinging, and that’s more than half the battle.