Friday, April 6, 2012
Can Fred Couples beat age-old odds?
A 52-year-old Freddie Couples played like it was 1992 all over again on Friday and Tiger Woods' game reverted to the struggles we've seen for the past couple of years. But a stacked 36-hole leaderboard with the likes Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy -- among many others -- has golf fans salivating heading into the weekend.
Our experts weigh in on those possibilities and more in our latest edition of Masters Four-Ball.
1. What's the biggest obstacle to Fred Couples winning the 2012 Masters?
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Endurance. Freddie plays most of his golf now on the Champions Tour, where he rides a cart and plays three rounds of no-cut golf. He's got a bad back. It's going to be tough for him to keep up the same level of intensity for four days.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Age. There is a reason nobody in their 50s has won a major championship. It's grueling, difficult on the nerves, and hard to compete with players 20 and 30 years younger.
Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: His back. The low temperature in Augusta on Friday night is in the low 40s. That's great for some weekend hacker's front-nine scores, but terrible if you've got back issues.
Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com senior national columnist: Rory McIlroy and Freddie's birth certificate. But if Couples can push back the calendar, who knows?
2. Where did it go all wrong for Tiger on Friday?
Farrell Evans: Tiger never recovered from his first-round swing troubles. Whatever progress he made at Bay Hill, he's taken a step back this week. On Friday, he was never in sync with his swing.
Bob Harig: Everywhere. Driving, iron play, pitching. Woods seemingly lost the swing that won him the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Kevin Maguire: His par putt on the par-3 fourth hole. That was one of the most tentative strokes we've seen from Woods in a while and it all snowballed from there. Tiger had just birdied two of the first three holes, seemingly in position to jump up the leaderboard.
Gene Wojciechowski: When he woke up. The club-kicking incident on No. 16 was the icing on the disaster cake.
3. What, if it's even possible, does Tiger have to shoot Saturday to have a legitimate chance to win?
Farrell Evans: He's eight back now and he believes that he can make up 10 shots in two days. On Saturday, a 66 would get him right back in the tournament.
Bob Harig: Realistically, he needs to be no worse than four shots out of the lead. The issue is the number of players he has to pass. A 68 minimum is required, and then he has to hope that nobody ahead of him goes crazy low.
If he shoots 65 and goes from 3 over to 4 under, he'll improve his Sunday tee time over Saturday's by several hours. It's probably not enough to win that fifth green jacket, but he'll at least be within shouting distance.
Gene Wojciechowski: What's the course record? Unless he fixed his swing with an in-the-dark practice range session Friday, I think he's cooked.
4. Give us a player who isn't on the first page of the leaderboard who could still contend for the green jacket.
Farrell Evans: Hunter Mahan is at even par. Look for him to make a move on Saturday.
Bob Harig: Phil Mickelson. He shot 68 and is just three shots out of the lead, tied for 11th.
Kevin Maguire: Henrik Stenson. The guy improved his 18th-hole score on Friday by five shots as compared to the day before. If that mental blowup of a quadruple bogey in Round 1 was simply a par, he'd be leading the tournament by a shot. Still, after 36 holes, he's only three shots out of the lead.
Gene Wojciechowski: My pre-tournament pick: Hunter Mahan.