AUGUSTA, Ga. – When Fred Couples cruises the fairways, golf fans see the essence of carefree cool.
Jason Dufner exudes a lot of that same laid-back demeanor, too – though that’s pretty much where the comparisons end. Couples, 52, is a major champion and a fan favorite; Dufner’s still seeking his first PGA Tour win at age 35.
Different eras, different career paths. But the same destination Friday, sharing the Masters lead.
Couples, playing 20 years after his lone Masters title, turned back the clock on his younger rivals with a 5-under-par 67 that made him the oldest man to hold an overnight Masters lead.
“I feel like I’m very young when I get here,” Couples told a packed room of media.
Four groups earlier, Dufner had completed his 70 in relative anonymity with a bogey that wound up costing him the chance to stand alone at the top.
“I’m just trying to have a nice round of golf,” said Dufner, who wasn’t even brought down to the media center for a formal Q&A. “Play well, commit to my shots and let the rest take care of itself.”
There’s still plenty to shake out over the weekend, with 16 golfers trailing by three shots or fewer. That includes the reigning U.S. Open champion (Rory McIlroy), two former Masters winners (Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh), two former British Open champs (Louis Oosthuizen, Paul Lawrie) and the best player still without a major (Lee Westwood).
“There was a lot going on there,” Couples said. “And for me to be a part of it, that’s really amazing.”
Couples and Dufner completed 36 holes in 5-under 139, the highest two-day leading score since 2007. Five men were just one shot back – McIlroy (69), Westwood (73), Oosthuizen (72), Sergio Garcia (68) and Bubba Watson (71).
Tiger Woods, meanwhile, finds himself with eight shots to make up after a frustrating 3-over 75. Among the mishaps were a penalty drop from the bank of Rae’s Creek at No.13, a bruised spectator alongside No.15, and a drop-kick of his club after a bad tee shot at No.16.
“I didn’t quite have it today with my swing, and unfortunately I just had to hang in there and be patient,” Woods said.
Couples, who won a Champions Tour event in Mississippi two weeks ago, came within one stroke of his best score ever at Augusta National with his 67. In the process, he wound up surpassing Lee Trevino – age 49 in 1989 – as the oldest to hold a Masters lead.
“I’ve said it for 28 years that this is my favorite golf tournament in the world,” Couples said. “I don’t feel too much stress.”
Dufner had a chance to hold the lead by himself when a birdie at the par-3 16th moved him to 6-under for the week. But he bogeyed No.18 after picking up mud on his golf ball.
“It didn’t quite work,” he said, “but it carried over into this year. It gave me confidence that I can compete and play at a high level out here.”
Dufner hasn’t won since the 2006 LaSalle Bank Open – a Nationwide Tour event played outside Chicago.
Westwood also stood at 6-under going to the final hole, but hooked his second shot and then three-putted for a double bogey that ended his bogey-free run at 24 holes.
The cut was drawn at 5-over 149, allowing 63 entrants to play the weekend. Eighteen of them were saved by the rule that keeps anyone within 10 shots of the lead from being sent home. Not since 1992 has the Masters had as many weekend players.
Among those who still didn’t survive: British Open champion Darren Clarke, Humana Challenge winner Mark Wilson, Players Championship titleholder K.J. Choi, plus Hall of Famers Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer and Ben Crenshaw, Jose Maria Olazabal and five other former Masters winners.
email@example.com. Read Jeff Shain’s blog, The Downswing, at OrlandoSentinel.com/golfblog.