Masters could alter Couples' legacy


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- If Fred Couples played a less forgiving game, a sport that chews up and spits out its own, he would be widely known as a guy who never played up to his talent. But inside the ever-protective ropes of golf, Couples is a beloved star and Hall of Famer who can do no wrong.

Only one major and 15 PGA Tour victories with a swing like that? Hey, don't you dare call our Boom Boom an underachiever. At Augusta National, you're not sitting in the bleachers at Fenway Park or in the cheap seats at a Flyers game in the old Philly Spectrum.

And oh by the way, you're not a fan, either. You're a patron who is charged to respectfully appreciate Freddie's career in Freddie's emerald backyard.

But no matter what the green jackets want or expect, facts are facts: Even considering the back injury he suffered 20 years ago at age 34, Couples should be defined by what he failed to do, not by what he did. Freddie should've won a couple more majors and a bunch more tournaments, and the only guy to say it was the man he beat on a lucky bounce -- make that a lucky roll -- at the 1992 Masters.

Well, Raymond Floyd didn't actually say it as much as he strongly suggested it. In an interview with Golf Magazine last year, Floyd teed off on a club he belonged to, the Hall of Fame, for letting in candidates he saw as unworthy. Though he didn't name names, the winner of four majors and 22 Tour events spoke out after Couples and Colin Montgomerie (no major victories) were voted in as the Class of 2013.

"One major should not get you into the Hall of Fame -- maybe one major and 40 wins," Floyd said. "I'm not gonna pick a guy with one major and 11 wins. ... I'll just say that you should have at least two majors. At least! Wow, there are guys in there that it's a joke. It takes integrity away from the term 'Hall of Fame.'"

If Floyd wasn't talking only about Couples, Freddie was certainly among the leaders in his clubhouse. Or outhouse.

And here's the thing: Floyd was absolutely, 100 percent right. Couples doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame, and deep down he probably knows it. His swing was effortless enough to have been outlawed, and he could make an impossibly difficult game look easier than one-two-three. Somehow, some way, Couples needed to squeeze more out of his gift -- maybe a lot more -- than his record shows he got.

Of course, there's still time to do something about that. Couples is 54 years old, and he's sitting at 2-under 142 at the Masters, five shots off Bubba Watson's lead. Only five men are positioned between Couples and Watson, meaning a few Bubba bogeys will put the old guy, Freddie, right back in the fight.

"Can I win it? Yeah," Couples said after his second straight 71. "That's why I'm here."

He's been here before, again and again and again. Ever since he turned 50, Couples has been on a Thursday-Friday Augusta National tear, entering the weekend inside the top 10 each of the past five years.

He was one shot back last year and tied for the lead the year before that before blowing up with third-round scores of 77 and 75. In fact, over his three previous Masters, Couples was 15 under on Thursday-Friday and 8 over on Saturday-Sunday.

"It's a really, really hard course," Couples explained about his weekend fades. "And when you panic and then try to do a couple of things because, 'Oh god, I was tied for the lead or in second, now I'm in 12th place,' you try and hit a shot and it doesn't work out. And you go to 18th place. You can't do that."

Especially when you're 54, your back hurts and you haven't won a Tour event since the Shell Houston Open in 2003.

"I'm not here just to play golf and think that I can't compete on this course," Couples said. "I can't compete with these guys over a year, but over one week I can compete, and I have to do it [Saturday]."

Couples will need more than his fair share of magic to pull this off. But then again, his cherished Seattle Seahawks won it all this year. But then again, the short tee shot at No. 12 that somehow didn't roll into Rae's Creek in 1992 -- much to Floyd's dismay - somehow stayed out of the creek again Friday (although this time Couples failed to make par).

Freddie bogeyed the 17th hole and missed a point-blank birdie opportunity at the 18th, or else he'd be tied for second at 4 under. Afterward, he said he was fine with the 71 on a brutal course with greens, Couples said, like concrete.

"I know anytime he plays here he can win this golf tournament," said his caddie, Mark Chaney. "I don't think anyone plays golf any better or feels more comfortable here than he does."

A newbie with Couples, Chaney said that he gives his man reads on yardages and wind, but that he rarely needs to offer advice on club selection. Couples is so at peace with Augusta National, the caddie continued, that he sometimes replaces his own divots and does what he did Friday at 17 -- help tear down some fairway ropes for his shot out of the trees.

Chaney also said that Couples' bad back "is fine." If true, Freddie would be the only one of the record six 50-somethings to make the Masters cut with a legitimate chance to take this tournament.

"I won't talk my way out of it," Couples said.

He shouldn't. The same Freddie who made a cottage industry out of cashing in during silly season, at this Skins Game or that one, can win something of real substance here.

That underachieving career record? The Hall of Fame induction without the Hall of Fame credentials?

Over the weekend, Boom Boom can make all that go bye-bye.