Their faces may no longer be as smooth as Augusta National’s fairways and greens, but Friday 53-year-old Fred Couples and 55-year-old Bernhard Langer patrolled the place as if they were 20 years younger.
That also happened to be the last time that one of them won the Masters.
Couples, who put on the green jacket in 1992, fired a 1 under to finish Friday’s second round at 5 under. Langer, champion in 1985 and ’93, also shot a 1 under and is 2 under for the tournament.
“I’m surprised, but I’m not going to freak out about it,” said Couples, who has made a habit of playing well at Augusta National, with three top-15 finishes in the past three years and only two missed cuts in 28 previous Masters appearances.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of players that make the cut at age 55, so that’s an achievement by itself,” Langer said. “But … I would like to contend and not just make the cut.”
Both think they can do it, and if it were to happen they would do it in different ways.
Couples is relying on power, averaging 284.5 yards per drive with a swing as smooth as a 16-year-old’s. He averaged 301 on Thursday.
“The last two days I’ve driven the ball nicely, and so it seems like the same old course for me,” he said. He said his key will be staying focused and confident in his beliefs because the course is so playing so difficult.
Couples was trading birdies and bogeys before “butchering” No. 7 when his second shot sailed over the green on the 450-yard par-4 No. 4 hole. He walked off with a double-bogey to drop to 2 under. But he bounced back with a two-putt birdie on No. 8 and added another on No. 12. He then sent a roar through the crowd with a birdie on No. 18 that was helped as if someone wants him to win.
His second shot landed eight feet from the pin, but as he was preparing to putt, his ball rolled three feet closer to the pin.
“You know, it made the putt a lot easier,” he said.
Langer, not as long off the tee with a 281-yard average, is relying on precision, not power. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, bringing his total to 25 of 28 this week — but needed 31 putts Friday.
“For me to win, everything has to go my way,” Langer said. “I got to start making some putts most of all. So, I’ll be working on that.”
They came to this year’s Masters with different mindsets.
Couples said he was playing poorly, so poorly that he practiced Sunday at Augusta National for the time since his first Masters in 1983.
His coach walked the fairways with him, providing instant feedback. Couples said he began to stand taller, which has helped him generate more clubhead speed. Things started to click.
“I got better fast and hope to keep it going tomorrow and Sunday,” he said.
Langer arrived for his 30th Masters coming off stellar showings on the Champions Tour. He has one win, two second-places, a third-place and a 20th-place showing this year. He said he is drawing on those memories this week.
“Winning gives you confidence and playing well gives you confidence, nothing like winning,” he said.
The two players seem to be rooting for each other. Langer said this is Couples’ second home and said he thinks Couples could win.
And if one of them were to win, they have very different plans.
Langer said if he adds a third green jacket he is still going to play in the Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC Sugarloaf next week.
Couples gave the same answer he gave last year when asked if he could win.
“I’m going to quit when I win this thing, I swear to God,” he said. “I’m going to retire. It’s probably not ever going to happen, but I’m going to retire.”
MASTERS OF THE CUT
Most cuts made in Masters history:
Jack Nicklaus; 37
Gary Players; 30
Fred Couples; 27
Raymond Floyd; 27
Arnold Palmer; 25
Ben Crenshaw; 25
Tom Watson; 24
Billy Casper; 23