Only Fred Couples could be so insouciant as to make a Friday at Augusta appear little more taxing than a sunset stroll at his local municipal. But at 57, the 1992 Masters champion, nicknamed ‘Boom Boom’ for his deceptive power, showed all the virtues of his vast experience with a 70 that kept him on course for – at the very least – a remarkable 18th top-20 finish.
Almost every April, the sub-plot is the same, as Couples glides towards the business end of the leaderboard despite a constant battle with debilitating back pain.
He plays a smattering of senior tour stops, with the Masters the sole regular tournament he enters all year, and yet he remains a one-week wonder. Indeed, Couples boasts the fourth best scoring average in the history of the event, behind only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jack Nicklaus.
What a pairing he and Rickie Fowler made on Friday night: the wily old stager alongside the young gunslinger in the oversized cap. Many a man has withered amid the intensity of Augusta’s unremitting challenge, but Couples grows in stature the moment he walks through the gates. The disarming confidence of his prediction this year – “I still feel I can do well here” – has proved well-founded.
The first time Couples played in the Masters, in 1983, he teed off with Tom Watson, when the sage of Kansas City was still in his pomp.
Thirty-four years on, he has given himself a chance, however slender, of being the oldest major champion by more than a decade.
It is an extraordinary achievement, given the degree of discomfort he experiences from his back. Since 1993, Couples has not been able even to practice putting for 15 minutes without stopping.
He claims that he still twitches all the time and has difficulty sleeping. But somehow, once in sight of this lustrous setting, he finds that all his troubles fall away.