Familiarity breeds confidence in classic


AUGUSTA, Ga. - Experience often comes into play at Augusta National, and it did yesterday in the 68th Masters.

While second-round leader Justin Rose is here for only the second time, as are Alex Cejka and K.J. Choi, the leader board going into the third round is filled with those who have found success amid the azaleas and dogwoods.

Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal, who missed the cut in his first two trips here before finishing second in his fifth appearance and winning in his seventh and 11th, will be trying for a third win in No. 17.

"It would be nice to have another European win the tournament, that's for sure," said Olazabal, 38, whose 3-under-par 69 put him at 4-under 140, tied with Cejka for second place, two shots behind Rose.

Olazabal overcame foot problems brought on by rheumatoid arthritis to become the last European to win here in 1999, but the course he won on has undergone major renovations since then.

"I think you need to be a long hitter of the ball to really do well around here," said Olazabal. "But apart from that, it is true that the knowledge of the golf course - it's a great point in favor of the player who knows the course really well."

This is the 20th visit for Fred Couples, who won his only major here in 1992 and finished tied for second in 1998. Couples, 44, hasn't played particularly well this season after making something of a comeback last year by winning the Houston Open - his first victory in five years - and finishing 11th overall.

"I think I can do well here," said Couples, who narrowly missed making a hole in one on the par-3 16th and finished with a 3-under-par 69 that put him at 2-under 142. "It'd be a miracle if I did well at another major."

Davis Love III, who will turn 40 on Tuesday, only has memories of coming close here, but not of winning. He finished second to Ben Crenshaw in 1995 and second to Olazabal in 1999. Love made some great shots down the stretch, just not enough of them.

"They were both special tournaments for me," said Love. "Jose Maria played great and ground out a win. I had a great chip-in there at the end that kept me in the tournament. Of course, Crenshaw's Masters was just a great story all around. I shot, I think, 13-under par."

"It was a good enough score to win a lot of Masters, and I got beat in kind of a very special and sad kind of way at the same time [following the death of Crenshaw's longtime teacher, Harvey Penick]. I've got a lot of great memories here. I've shot scores that can win, so I've just got to keep after it."

Cowan with Faxon

What does a caddie do when the player for whom he regularly works is out for an extended period of time with an injury?

Mike Cowan, known to everyone as "Fluff," has been faced with finding work ever since reigning U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk was sidelined two months ago after undergoing wrist surgery.

Cowan, who was something of a celebrity himself when he became the first caddie Tiger Woods hired after turning pro, went back to work for his former longtime boss, Peter Jacobsen, at Bay Hill and The Players Championship. Cowen then worked for tour rookie Dan Olsen last week outside Atlanta and is carrying Brad Faxon's bag here.

"I wouldn't say it's all that different," said Cowan, who will be working this weekend after Faxon survived the cut at 4-over-par 148. "It's still caddying. They're all talented players. They just have different routines."

Many figured that given the success of the players he worked for, particularly Woods and Furyk, Cowan would have just taken the time off as Furyk recovered. Cowan lives in Rockville, Md., with his wife, Jen, and their 16-month old daughter, Bobbie.

"Maybe if I had as much money as everyone thinks I have, I could take time off, but I need to work," said Cowan.

Initially, Furyk was supposed to be out between three and six months, with hopes of making it back for this year's Ryder Cup matches outside Detroit in September.

It still seems doubtful that Furyk will be able to defend his U.S. Open title at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island in June, but Cowan remains optimistic that he will be on Furyk's bag before the fall.

"I'm hoping that it's sooner rather than later," said Cowan.

Nicklaus' future

As four-time champion Arnold Palmer bowed out after his 50th Masters with great pomp and circumstance after missing the cut by 20 strokes (and for the 21st straight time), six-time champion Jack Nicklaus left things in doubt about his return after missing the cut by two strokes.

"It could well be my last Masters," said Nicklaus, who at 64 is 10 years younger than Palmer. "I played well the last two days [shooting a pair of 75s.] If I had half of a putter, I'd be in contention. I three-putted six times. I was trying to make the cut."

Will he be back next year?

"If I'm back," he said, "I'm back."

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