Fred Couples is “shocked.”
Maybe the huge Augusta National galleries were too, but they enjoyed, as usual, his sprint to the top of the Masters leaderboard during Friday’s second round.
Couples, 52 years old but rejuvenated every time he plays the course, drained a series of long birdie putts on a breezy afternoon and with a 67 tied Jason Dufner for the Masters lead at the time he finished in mid-afternoon.
Couples traded bogeys at Nos. 1 and 6 with birdies on 4-foot putts at Nos. 3 and 4. He then ran off three in a row at Nos. 7, 8 and 9, the first on a 20-foot putt and the latter on a 35-foot bomb that elicited one of the largest roars of the tournament so far.
After a superb par at No. 11, in which he popped a wedge over the bunker and made an 8-foot putt, Couples added a two-putt birdie off the fringe at No. 15 and a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 16.
The 1992 Masters champion hit 11 fairways and needed only 26 putts. He recently won his seventh Champions Tour title in Mississippi and said without reservation: “I can win.”
“I hit some very solid shots,” he said. “The idea today was to not try to do a lot of crazy things. I really know the course and I can get out there and figure out how to shoot a score.”
Couples observed a leaderboard that includes Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson, with Phil Mickelson making a charge to shoot 68.
“There’s a lot going on out there and it’s fun for me to be a part of it,” he said.
Couples has played well at Augusta the last three years, after missing the only two cuts of his career in 2008 and 2009. He shot a first-round 66 to lead the tournament in 2010 and was only five shots off the lead last year before going 72-73 on the weekend.
“Yeah, Jim Nantz [of CBS, his former college roommate at Houston] reminded me of that – 1-over on the weekend,” Couples said. “I can’t do that again – unless the wind blows 50 mph … then I’ll take 1-over.”