At Masters, age is just a number of Old Fred Couples

Plus, Zach Johnson will start Saturday's third round all-even

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jason Dufner is to the Masters leaderboard what a pair of brown shoes is to a tuxedo.

Nothing against Dufner, who obviously is no duffer. The guy did make it into a playoff at last year’s PGA Championship before losing to Keegan Bradley, after all.

But Dufner has no PGA Tour victories in 161 tournaments. Yet, this guy who missed the 36-hole cut at the last two John Deere Classics is sharing space on the billing with some of golf’s marquee names.

Dufner is co-leader with Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champ and seemingly his sport’s answer to the Picture of Dorian Gray.

One shot back are 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, 2010 British Open titlist Louis Oosthuizen, world No. 3-ranked Lee Westwood, golf household name Sergio Garcia, and one of America’s top players, Bubba Watson.

(How marketable would a Masters winner named “Bubba” be in the U.S.? Now that would be gittin’ ‘er done.)

If Dufner has charisma, he saves that for his good friends, one of whom is fellow Auburn alum Charles Barkley. Here’s what Dufner said he did in Augusta on the day before this tournament began:

“I just hung out at the house. I had a couple of errands, picked up some dry cleaning, had to send something off. Watched the History Channel a good bit.”

What a swashbuckler. Off you go, Jason. The story the day here on a day full of good ones was Couples, anyhow. Thankfully, he was talkative after his 5-under par 67 lifted him to a tie with Dufner at 5-under 139.

Couples is 52. He won the Masters in 1992. This course is too hard for a 52-year-old to card a 67.

Of course, a 51-year-old Couples had a second-round 68 and was 5-under after 36 holes last year (he would tie for 15th). And a 50-year-old Couples had a first-round 66 in 2010, and didn’t exactly fade away in finishing sixth.

But this share of the lead at the halfway point is, well ...

“Very shocking,” said Couples. “And a great day.”

These days, he plays more events on the Champions Tour than the PGA Tour. His last win on the latter was nine years ago. He has had back problems for a long time, and his life isn’t stuffed with golf, golf, golf.

“A lot of the tournaments I play in, at my age now,” Couples said, “they are just golf tournaments. It’s another week of golf.”

The way he plays this game at Augusta, though, makes him seem young enough to run with the Rorys.

“Freddie has a lot of experience here and he still has the game to do well,” said McIlroy, who was 2 when Couples won here.

“He’s just cool. I hope I’m that cool when I’m 52, or whatever he is. Yeah, he’s just a cool guy.”

It’s arguable how cool any guy can be when he dresses like, you know, a golfer. But for a 52-year-old to stare down this intimidating course, yes, that is pretty cool.

“I feel like I’m very young when I get here,” he said.

“I’ve said it for 28 years. This is my favorite golf tournament in the world.”

Couples was in the hunt in 2004 and 2006, tying for sixth and third, respectively, as Phil Mickelson won both of those years. Friday was his 22nd round in the 60s here.

“Fred Couples is 52, his back is 102, and his game looks like prime time at 32,” legendary golf writer Dan Jenkins Tweeted Friday.

The operative word, of course, is “Friday.” There are reasons no one older than 46 (Jack Nicklaus in 1986) has won this tourney.

But there’s a lot to be said for experience, especially here. Couples didn’t even bother to play a practice round at Augusta this week. He kind of knows the layout.

“I don’t need to wear myself out,” he said.

Maybe that’s why he decided to only use 67 strokes on Friday. It’s less wear and tear on a 52-year-old back that way. Leave the 75s to younger people like Tiger Woods. ...

Meanwhile, here's my story on Zach Johnson's 74 on Friday:

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Zach Johnson had double trouble Friday at the Masters.

Johnson was a mere two shots out of the tournament lead when he double-bogeyed the ninth hole, then he did the same at No. 11. Both are par-4s.

That dropped the Cedar Rapids native from 3-under par to 1-over. But while he got knocked down, he got up again, and finished the day with a 2-over 74 for a 36-hole total of even-par 144. He easily made the 36-hole cut. He is five shots behind co-leaders Jason Dufner and Fred Couples, and tied for 24th-place.

“It was an up and down day,” Johnson said, in an understatement.

He had a three-putt bogey on the first hole, then made birdies on Nos. 2 and 3 to get to minus-3, which is where he stood until No. 9, where his approach shot landed in a greenside bunker.

“I hit a pretty good drive and I was on a severe down slope,” Johnson said about his second shot. Misjudged the wind, misjudged the club, and I paid the price there with the 6.”

His shot from the sand settled about six feet past the back of the green and 18 feet or so from the cup. He chose to putt instead of chip, but the putt didn’t get all the way off the grass and onto the green.

Two putts later, he had a double. Two holes later, he had another after he flew his approach into the pond guarding the left side of the green.

“I hit a bad shot on 11, my second shot,” Johnson said. “There is no doubt about that. That was a terrible, terrible golf swing.”

He took a penalty stroke, and then failed to get up-and-down from where he took his drop.

Johnson called the two doubles “frustrating,” but added “I think you just persevere and be patient.”

That, he did. He didn’t capitalize on the par-5s, Nos. 13 and 15, but made a 9-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th, and then gave the fans near the 17th green a thrill.

Johnson’s second shot on that par-4 reached the green’s frontside bunker. His pitch from the sand, however, was pitch-perfect. He holed the shot for birdie to get back under par for the tourney.

The shot, however, was given back when he bogeyed 18.

“It just seems I got off to a real good start and there was a lull in the middle,” said Johnson. “I don’t know if I could have shot a whole lot under par, but I certainly could have shot under par.”

It wasn’t much consolation to the player, but Johnson hit all 14 fairways in regulation Friday. He is 26-of-28 in that category, ranking first of all the players here.

“It wasn’t like I was smashing it,” he said, “but I got it in play in the middle of the fairway.” 

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