AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer briefly made round two of the Masters seem like "Old Timers Day."
The two former champions fell back on years of experience to navigate the tough, windy conditions Friday at Augusta National, climbing steadily up the leaderboard as many of their younger, stronger rivals lost their grip headed in the opposite direction.
Couples, 53, who won his green jacket in 1992, followed up an opening 68 with an up-and-down round of 71 Friday to get to 5-under and one shot off the lead. Langer, 55, who won twice and whose first green jacket (1985) is older than more than a few of his opponents, notched his second consecutive 71 to reach 2-under and a tie for 14th.
"I mean, I'm surprised," Couples said, "but I'm not going to freak out over it."
Langer wasn't buying the surprised angle at all.
"Fred loves this place," he said. "He's played here 28 times and he's only missed one cut by one shot. This is his second home."
So much so that Couples, who was in much the same position after two rounds just a year ago, renewed his threat to retire on the spot if he won at Augusta National again.
"You asked me that last year and I said, yeah, I would quit. I'm going to quit when I win this thing, I swear to God," he said to laughter. "I'm going to retire. It's probably not ever going to happen, but I'm going to retire.
"I'm not going to kid you. I mean, it's a hard course. I'm really tired. I'm swinging hard at every drive I hit."
Yet Langer wasn't buying the idea that Couples couldn't win, either. He was less certain about his own chances."
"I always thought that Freddie, with his length, can win it, because he hits it a good 30 yards by me, which helps a great deal on some of these holes," Langer said. "For me to win, everything has to go my way. I got to start making some putts most of all."
Couples was sharp with the putter most of the day, if only because he'd seen even the more diabolical pin positions at least once or twice before. But he felt like the biggest advantage of all those rounds at Augusta was remembering not to let the swirling winds confuse him or change the way he played his approaches into the greens.
"Any golf course plays hard when the wind blows," he said. "At Augusta where you're trying to judge your second shots and putts, it becomes really, really hard. ...
"I knew it was blowing downwind on 3. And so three hours later, we are playing a hole that runs that way, it's going to be playing downwind again, and you just have to keep believing that and doing that, because it swirls around in those trees. ... But when you're a guy trying to hit it, you can't stand there and say, I know it's coming into my face, but I'm not really sure. That's not how you want to stand up on a lot of holes. It's just that I've played so many rounds here that I feel pretty comfortable on some of these shots."
Of course, all the talk about experience can also get, well, old. When Langer was asked the third time recount something from his history at Augusta National, he promptly cut it short.
"I think this is my 30th," he said, chuckling. "I'm getting old."