Freddie Couples uttered as he watched another iron shot cover the flagstick at the par 4 18th hole yesterday afternoon at the Masters. For four plus hours, Couples took the gallery and golf fans around the globe on a trip down memory lane. The man affectionately known as “Boom Boom” grabbed the first day lead with a six under par round of 66. The stellar performance consisted of seven birdies and one bogey. It was an afternoon to remember and capped off a day of riveting theatre at the first major of 2010.
Perhaps the patrons knew that something special was in the air at Augusta National when Jack Nicklaus joined Arnold Palmer as the honorary starters. These two rivals hit ceremonial drives off the first tee to start the tournament under sunny skies at 7:40 am eastern time. The morning crowds gravitated to Tom Watson as he grabbed the early lead at -5. Phil Mickelson, the fan favorite, made a charge on the second nine to tie Watson with a 67. These men stole the show on a calm, Thursday morning.
Overcast skies came into eastern Georgia by noontime as Fred Couples began his round. He kicked it off with a bang birdying the difficult par 4 opening hole and capitalizing on the downhill par 5 second. A dropped shot at the 5th halted Couples’ for a bit but the 50 year old steadied himself by parring the next two holes before taking advantage of the par 5 8th.
Couples went out in 34. Then he caught lightning in a bottle.
The back side was pure Freddy. As ESPN began its coverage, the camera gravitated towards the star of this year’s Champions Tour.
Commentators noticed his fashionable attire. Couples sported a striped polo with white/khaki pants and wore boat shoes without any socks—literally, spike less shoes that looked just like slippers. He seemed like he’d just rolled out of bed. His play seemed more like a twenty-five year old rather than a man twice that age.
This is nothing new. Eyeballs have stared at Couples fashion sense for over twenty years. After all, Boom Boom ushered in the golf-is-cool look long before the boy named Elderick. Ashworth apparel brought in a new style for the polo in 1988. Golf shirts became cool. Men became comfortable wearing their links attire out on the town. Of course, Ashworth wanted the coolest cat on tour to model their clothing. They choose Freddie Couples.
As the tv guys got another good laugh out of Freddie and commented on his great play on the senior circuit (racking up three wins and a second place finish in his four appearances with the over fifty boys), Boom Boom began lighting up the back nine like fireworks on a dark fourth of July night. He began Amen Corner with a solid par on the difficult dogleg right par 4 11th and then hit a splendid shot to twenty three feet on the famous par 3 12th. There, he calmly rolled in a bending right to left putt to go to -3.
Couples layed up on the par 5 13th and hit a splendid wedge to six feet. He rolled in the left to right breaker for two birdies in a row. The putter that caused him so many difficulties in the last couple years (including biting him in the rear during his last great Masters opportunity in 2006) was in fine form and it appeared as if Freddie were putting the greens of the Desert, where he earned his legend as the King of the Silly Season by winning several Skins Game competitions.
He pushed his approach at the par 5 15th but rebounded with a delightful chip that gave him another five foot birdie opportunity. Couples rolled the ball straight into the back of the cup. All of a sudden, he tied Watson and three others for the lead at -5.
The last couples holes saw one stellar iron shot after another. Couples covered the flag stick at 16, 17, and 18. He grabbed his final birdie at the 17th and nearly stole another stroke from par at the tricky uphill final hole. For the first time, his putter failed him and the smooth stroke seemed a bit jumpy. Couples tapped in for a par 4 and a personal best Masters round of 66.
This is Couples 26th appearance at Augusta. He has a fantastic record here, winning the Green Jacket in 1992 and coming oh so close to bagging another championship in 1998 and again in 2006. Unforced errors cost him in both those instances. Leaky iron play in 1998 left him a shot back of Mark O’Meara and a balky putter in 2006 saw him fade on the back nine as Phil Mickelson won his second green jacket. But 2010 seems a lot like 1992 to me.
Couples came to Augusta that year (1992) as the game’s top player. He had won at Riviera and Bay Hill and finished second at Doral and Palm Beach. The Green Jacket was his for the taking. This year, even though he’s fifty years old and a member of the senior circuit, Couples begins the season’s first major with three victories and hasn’t shot a round higher than 68 on that tour.
No, Couples is not playing against the old guys this week. But winning breeds confidence. Success leads to additional success. You can’t help thinking that Couples will turn back the clock and make another run this week. The putter, so long the chink in his armor, poured in putts from all over the place on Thursday. The back which acted up and cost Couples so many tournaments during the prime of his career, hasn’t bothered him this year. This is it. The time is now.
If Couples continues hitting the drives long and straight, if his iron shots are as pure as they have been, if the putts track to the hole and roll in, the fifty year old could win his second Masters. Not such a far off thought, now is it? Golf in 2010 seems full of possibilities after Tom Watson inspired the old guys with his brilliant performance last year at Turnberry and his magnificent opening 67 today at Augusta. Boom Boom has the game, the length, the touch, and the knowledge to win on these hallowed grounds. He also knows his game is up to the challenge. At fifty, Couples has experienced a renaissance!!!