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Can Freddie Hang On for Two More Rounds?
Fred Couples has been in this position before. The 53-year-old regular on the Champions Tour has posted a 4-under 68 and 1-under 71 to be within only one shot of 36-hole leader Jason Day heading into the weekend at the Masters.
Last year, Couples - the 1992 champion - shared the lead after two rounds but shot a 75 on Saturday to drop from contention, ending up in 12th. But the Seattle native always plays well at this favorite course, Augusta National Golf Club, as evidenced by his 11 top-10 finishes in 29 tournaments.
"Am I good enough to play four good rounds in a row on a course like this? It didn't happen last year," Couples told reporters Friday afternoon. "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 and have - 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 added, "Hopefully, (Saturday) will be a little different and I will play well and have a shot at Sunday. I mean, that's my goal. But it is hard. I'm not going to kid you. I mean, it's a hard course. I'm really tired."
If Couples can somehow win his second green jacket, he will be 53 years, six months, and 11 days old on Sunday. A victory this week would not only make him the oldest Masters champion ever but the oldest winner in PGA Tour history. Sam Snead was 52 years, 10 months and eight days when he won the Greater Greensboro Open in 1965.
When asked what would happen if he did win, the sweet-swinging Couples responded, eliciting laughter, "I would quit. I'm going to quit when I win this thing, I swear to God. I'm going to retire. It's probably not ever going to happen, but I'm going to retire."
Here's what else Couples had to say during his session with reporters following the second round.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to welcome Fred Couples back after a fantastic second round, Freddie, and leader in the clubhouse at 5 under. Maybe you can just share a few thoughts about your round today and then we'll open it up for Q&A.
FRED COUPLES: Like we were saying before, it's a hard course out there. I felt very good about what I shot. I had a couple little hiccups out there and did some other good things to shoot my score. But you know, the golf course is winning today. I don't know, I saw Cabrera, his name up there, birdieing the last, I think, four or five holes, so you know, that's kind of maybe the only guy out there, if you look at it, that has a run like that, that's pretty positive for him.
I'm just having fun watching the boards. And for me, I butchered the 7th hole, and I actually thought I hit a pretty good second shot. I just hit it over the green, over the bunker and the pin was way right, and I told myself to play it for a 5 and I kind of gashed a sand wedge over the green into the gallery and chipped it up five feet and missed it for bogey. But then I made a huge two putt from the front edge of No. 8 from about 100 feet, and that, you know, was kind of like a sigh of relief. From then on, I played really, really well.
Q. How much did the pin placements today factor into the difficulty of the course?
FRED COUPLES: You know, that's a good question. The pins here are always tough. I think yesterday, there were a couple new ones, and maybe they seemed a little easier. I thought today they went out there and they put most of the pins in, I thought, really hard spots. But again, the old saying, any golf course plays hard when the wind blows, and I think when you get a U.S. Open where you have to try to work your ball in the fairways, or at Augusta where you're trying to judge your second shots and putts, it becomes really, really hard. That's why I think for me personally, it was great to hit two good shots at 18 and make that putt. But the pins are always - you know, they are the same bunch here.
When you hit a good drive and you're looking at the pin and you have a good second, you have the correct club where you don't have to hit it hard or easy, it's kind of one of those things where you can kind of attack at it. When you hit a drive and you've got a 5 iron, like the fifth hole, and the pin is about four feet on top of a knob, you just want to hit it anywhere on the green past the pin and try and 2 putt, and that's what this place is all about. The pins were tough today; tougher.
Q. To see your ball roll back on 18, how much did come back and did it change the line at all?
FRED COUPLES: Well, certainly anything getting close. You know, Dustin had walked down to the bunker shot, and he looked like he was kind of ready and our two balls were I guess he was four feet and I was eight feet at the time. Then he tapped me on the shoulder and says, "Your ball's rolling." I was looking at Dustin, and I looked, and it trickled down three feet maybe. You know, it made the putt a lot easier.
Q. Tiger made that putt on 5 you were just talking about down the front -
FRED COUPLES: Down the front, yeah, sure.
Q. You've been around a long time, but I just wanted to get off the topic just quickly; the 14 year old, Chinese kid, he got a one stroke penalty for slow play today, I don't know if you heard about that, but he was assessed that on 17. He's up here trying to make the cut, he shot 3 over, but now 4 over. You've been around a long time, and slow play has been a problem for a long time. What's your feeling on this kid getting a penalty today?
FRED COUPLES: Well, I mean, my feeling; I played with Branden Grace and he's 4 over, and we think he's going to make the cut, we're hoping. He's a nice young kid. And this 14 year old, you know, I don't know the rules here. I don't know how they do it; if he was timed. And to be honest with you, on our Tour, I think they give you a warning or something. I don't even know if we get one shot penalties; I think we get fined, correct?
So you know, I mean, the soft coated answer would be I feel bad, but I also feel like they just don't go around handing out one shot penalties here. I don't even know of anyone who has ever gotten one. It feels hard to give a 14 year old a penalty, but he's in the field. He beat a lot of guys yesterday, whatever the hell age he is. But I think he's going to make it. I mean, I don't even know, 7 under who is going to get to 7 under; that might hurt his chances, obviously, but I think he's going to make it in the top 50. I hope he does.
Q. Whether it's you or another player who is north of 50, what's the biggest obstacle to doing this over four days and pulling it off? Is it physical or is it mental?
FRED COUPLES: Well, I can only answer for me. I think for myself, I hit the ball a long way. And I don't have this kind of memory, but I know last year I putted very, very well. I think I was up there in putting and I drove the ball pretty well. The last two days, I've driven the ball nicely, and so it seems like the same old course for me. So then you get into, am I good enough to play four good rounds in a row on a course like this? 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 and have - 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.
Q. It's kind of generally acknowledged that you are, "Cool". What does that mean, do you think, and why do you think people say that about you?
FRED COUPLES: You know, I'm cool, but I can be a jerk, too (laughter). So I'm a cool jerk. And I don't really get mad. I mean, I've broken clubs, and for 33 years, maybe three times or four times; so I don't get too frustrated. 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 cliché of being a cool guy. I enjoy everyone. There are a few guys that I really enjoy playing golf with and there are other guys that I like watching. For instance, Rickie Fowler, I'm excited the finish he had. 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 (laughter). But I have no idea to be honest with you (laughter).
Q. We're not even halfway, but are you surprised to see your name up there in the second spot right now or what are your thoughts on that?
FRED COUPLES: You know, I told you the other day, I was really playing horrible, and I shot 78, and you came up and said, you know, can you win at Augusta and this and that, and I said no way. I worked with Paul. I got here Sunday. Real quick answer, I've been working on my game, and you know, sometimes it does catch on. I've stood up a little taller where I can get some clubhead speed. You know, I did tee off Thursday with the idea of playing well, and now it's Friday afternoon late, I mean, I'm surprised, but I'm not like, you know, going to freak out over it.
I would like to, you know, have another run. As I said last year, both Jason and I, we struggled right off the bat and we really were a non factor on Saturday and that was not really much fun. Hopefully tomorrow will be a little different and I will play well and have a shot at Sunday. I mean, that's my goal. But it is hard. 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 ten or 12 of them. But the 53 - and all the practice, I've never been here on a Sunday in all the years, not one time, but I came in on Sunday because I was just playing so poorly.
And Paul - I say Paul, that's my teacher for those of you who don't know, he was able to walk in the fairways, which is a no no, or you can't do it in the tournament. But on Sunday, when I hit a shot, he was standing an inch from me saying, do this, and it was a little bit of a blessing. I kept working with him and hitting balls and played a few holes. I got better fast. I'm hoping it keeps going tomorrow and Sunday.
Q. Where are you as far as the back, and will it be a problem at all this weekend?
FRED COUPLES: No, no, if it was a problem, I wouldn't be playing like this. I'll go back and get rest and I probably won't tee off, you know, till one o'clock tomorrow or so. So I'm fine. I feel good. Rex, what do you got?
Q. You talk about how hard it is, does experience come into play on a day like this when the wind is blowing and you've been here enough times and you know you don't need to freak out?
FRED COUPLES: I really do. I mean, I was out there and I have a great caddie, Casey, and he's got a wind chart. Still, you have to step up and say, yes, I knew the wind was blowing downwind on 3. And so three hours later, we are playing a hole that runs that way, it's going to be playing downwind again, and you just have to keep believing that and doing that, because it swirls around in those trees. But you hear that all the time. But when you're a player, you tell all your friends, you go back and you stand on the 12th tee - I say that every year. But when you're a guy trying to hit it, you can't stand there and say, I know it's coming into my face, but I'm not really sure.
That's not how you want to stand up on a lot of holes, but on that one, it's just, I've played so many rounds here that I feel pretty comfortable on some of these shots. You still have to hit a good one, but the more times you play this place, it helps. It doesn't get any easier. Now as I've played so many times, it's getting harder, because the greens are so fast. And I mean, I play on greens like this once a year, and it's here. Maybe Tavistock Cup they were like this. But the regular tour, greens are fast every week they play. For me, I don't get on greens; so it takes a lot of feel, and I had this putt seven years ago. It sounds stupid, but you know you get it on a ridge and it trickles down and you do your best and you go to the next hole.
Q. If you won again, would you do something different?
FRED COUPLES: You asked me that last year and I said, yeah, I would quit. I'm going to quit when I win this thing, I swear to God (laughter). I'm going to retire. It's probably not ever going to happen, but I'm going to retire.
Q. And do what?
FRED COUPLES: Work with you (laughter). I'll be your runner. Play golf, but not this hard. I mean, the golf course is brutal, and honestly, I feel great about a 71. I mean, Dustin Johnson, one of the top players in the world, I watched him, he maybe played the last five holes 5 over, and besides a chunk in the water, I mean, they weren't - you know, they are not bad shots. You just make bogeys by missing a spot and 3 putting or not getting up and down. But he's a guy that could win this, and he kind of, you know, stepped on himself and he's going to have to burn it up tomorrow. But it can happen. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.