AUGUSTA, Ga. — With all the talk about one guy trying to be the youngest winner in Masters Tournament history, Seattle’s Fred Couples tried to take it to the opposite extreme Sunday.
What if a gracefully-aging man with a creaky back came from behind to win?
After the first few holes, his flock of believers grew both in numbers and optimism.
But by the end of Sunday, it all added up to a disappointing 3-over-par 75 to conclude the 78th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.
Tying for 20th at 2-over 290, the 54-year-old Couples – the 1992 Masters champion – posted his 19th top-25 finish in 30 appearances.
It was a banner showing for the 50-somethings this week.
With his solo fourth-place finish at 4-under 284, Spain’s 50-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez had the second-best Masters finish ever by a 50-and-over golfer. Sam Snead, also 50 at the time, tied for third in 1963.
And Germany’s Bernhard Langer, 56, tied for eighth at even-par 288.
“It’s because we play here so many times,” said Couples, a graduate of O’Dea High School. “You get to know the course, you know the wind – you know how to play it.”
To make some sort of move on overnight co-leaders Bubba Watson – the eventual winner – and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, vying to become the youngest winner in Masters history, Couples knew a hot start was mandatory.
And he did just that, striking his approach shot hole high at No. 1, and rolling in an 8-foot birdie putt.
At the par-5 second hole, he tried bringing his third shot out of the greenside bunker off a slope and toward the hole. But his golf ball stayed on the downslope, leaving him a tricky 7-footer.
He made it for a birdie-birdie start to reach 3-under for the tournament, and suddenly the gallery roaming around the front nine began making its way in Couples’ direction.
One patron commented on Couples’ “swag” as he strutted down the fairway, giving his cheering army the occasional smirk or tip of the cap. Throughout the front nine, cheers of “C’mon, Freddie” could be heard.
He was up to the task. Incredible up-and-downs at the fifth and sixth holes for pars kept his round going. And from the left fairway at the uphill par-5 eighth hole, he knocked it on the green in two shots, 50 feet away from the hole for eagle.
“To be honest with you, I had what looked like a fairly doable two-putt (for birdie),” Couples said. “I left my first putt 15 feet short.”
The second putt for birdie slip by the hole. The grandstands silenced. Couples slumped as he picked his golf ball out of the hole after a three-putt par.
“That didn’t take the steam out of me, but I kind of lost a little confidence on the greens,” Couples said.
A three-putt at No. 10 gave him his first bogey of the round. And stuck in the right-side trees at No. 11, Couples tried hitting something hard to reach the difficult par 4, but it landed short, took one big hop and plopped into the pond in front of the green.
He walked off the 11th green with a double bogey, and all chances of winning the Masters went with it.
“You know, I played pretty well,” Couples said. “This is a tough course. If you don’t hit the shots you are trying to hit, you are going to be penalized pretty quickly.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442