Old master Floyd brought touch of class to Couples' coronation


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Within five months, at age 50, Raymond Floyd will be eligible for playing golf with "elderly young men," those members of the Senior PGA Tour who are able to ride in carts and only have to subject themselves physically to three rounds, not four, per tournament.

He came within two shots of catching Fred Couples in the Masters tournament and, when it was over, said he wasn't so sure he wanted to leave regular PGA tournament play. Floyd won the Masters in 1976 and, now, 16 years later, makes another remarkable run . . . even if he did fall short by a mere two shots.

The win by Couples put an end to a four-year reign of foreign players winning the Masters. In fact, the top five finishers -- Couples, Floyd, Corey Pavin, Mark O'Meara and Jeff Sluman -- are all Americans.

Craig Parry was the second- and third-round leader but skied higher than the loblolly pines that tower around and within the Augusta National Golf Club. After rounds of 69-66-69, he came in with a disappointing 78 and cried all the way to the clubhouse.

He had the audacity to complain about the noise he heard from the gallery. But Floyd said in a crowd this large, thought to be in excess of 40,000, there are going to be distractions but you pay them no mind.

"If Parry heard somebody move a chair then maybe that's what was wrong," remarked Floyd, alluding to the belief that he was suffering from a lack of concentration and shouldn't be blaming the gallery. Parry tried to make it sound as if the fans were heckling him -- which wasn't true.

Until Floyd rimmed a putt at the 10th hole for a bogey, it appeared he was going to give Couples a serious challenge. Then another bogey followed at the 12th and this gave the leader a more comfortable three-stroke cushion that he was able to nurture the rest of the way.

In the final determination, it was Couples by two shots over Floyd, who has great fondness for the 32-year-old champion he has counseled and encouraged to fulfill the potential he is now realizing.

The most talked about player in the field, John Daly, who hits tee shots that carry cross country, didn't embarrass himself. In his first Masters appearance, he had a 4-under-par 68 in the final round for a total of 283.

Couples described himself as feeling "out of sync" in his game but was tough when he had to be, never showing any signs of bowing to pressure or pursuers.

"I got lucky at the 12th hole and I was as nervous as I have ever been," he said in describing how it felt to mis-hit a short iron and not have it plummet in the creek, stopping just inches short.

Asked if he was charged up in playing as a U.S. representative against the foreign invaders, he answered politely, "I did it for myself, not the United States of America."

This is as it should be. The Masters is a golf competition, not a Ryder Cup or the Olympics. "The fact there were perfect scoring conditions and only three golfers in double figures tells you how tough this course is," observed Floyd.

The weather was ideal for shooting the ball directly at the pins. There was no wind any of the four days and the greens were soft from a light rain early in the week and then again on Saturday. "Passive conditions" was how Floyd described the 1992 Masters.

Fifty-five rounds were recorded in the 60s, which must be a record. Mark Calcavecchia, who has Couples-like talent, reeled off six straight birdies and, in the process, was able to do something the Masters has never seen before -- a back-nine score of 29.

In an effort to neutralize the weather, from a scoring standpoint, which lent itself to red numbers on the scoreboard, the pin placements were extremely difficult. "That's as it should be for a major tournament," said Floyd, who showed gentlemanly graciousness by actually rooting for his conqueror down the stretch, seeing his role as mentor fulfilled along with Couples' potential.

A mighty effort was put forth by Greg Norman, the Australian, who finished with a 68 after coming in on a "pass," courtesy of the Masters committee in charge of invitations. The most heated issue of the 1992 Masters concerned why Tom Kite wasn't in the field and Norman was.

Couples was overdue, considering his natural ability, the smoothness of his swing and the way he has been playing -- with three titles in six weeks and top-six finishes in 20 of his last 25 tournaments. He kept it going.

Even if doesn't win as many future Masters titles as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, the name Couples is going to be associated with one of the most treasured and respected tournaments in all the world. He can't be denied.

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