Just like that, two birdies to open Sunday’s final round provided Fred Couples exactly the kind of start he needed to capture his second Masters title.
By the time Couples dropped in another birdie, however, the dream was long over.
Unable to build on his hot start, the 1992 Masters champion spent the rest of his round spinning his wheels and never gained traction to move up the leaderboard. Instead, he slid backwards, carding 3-over 75 that resulted in a 2-over 290 finish and a tie for 20th.
“A couple of other times, I took (not winning) harder because I fought all the way to the end,” said Couples, who began Sunday tied for 10th and just four shots off the lead. “This is a tough course and when you don’t hit the shots you’re trying to hit, you’re going to be penalized pretty quickly. That’s what I did the back nine – I didn’t hit very many good shots.”
Couples’ round began to slip away on the front, however. After reaching the 570-yard par-5 No. 8 in two shots, he had a reasonable look at eagle and seemingly a sure birdie.
Instead, Couples three-putted for par, leaving his eagle putt short and setting up a difficult attempt for birdie.
“I felt like I had a fairly doable two-putt and left my first putt about 15 feet short,” Couples said. “I did the same thing when I was playing Phil a few years back when I was close or even ahead of him. That didn’t take the steam out of me, but I kind of lost a little confidence on the greens.”
If that didn’t deflate Couples, his trouble on No. 15 did. With a good look from the fairway on his second shot, Couples instead air-mailed the green with his iron shot, plunking the ball into the pond well beyond the green. Instead of building on the birdie he had made on No. 14, Couples walked off the green with a double bogey.
“I don’t know what I was doing,” Couples said. “I made double there when I was thinking I was going to make birdie.”
Trying to become the oldest champion in Masters history at age 54, Couples couldn’t finish what he started when he ran home a short birdie putt on No. 1 and then made birdie on No. 2 after hitting his second shot into the greenside bunker. He rallied for par saves on Nos. 5 and 6 as part of six consecutive pars before three-putting on No. 10 for a bogey and following with a double on No. 11.
The top-20 finish was the fifth in a row for Couples.