Bunker Mentality

Choose your fairytale this weekend

Bunker Mentality

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Fred Couples

As we head into the weekend at the 2012 Masters, it's hard to imagine a more eclectic cast lined up for a shot at the famous green jacket.

Sharing the lead are Americans Fred Couples and Jason Dufner, two men from different generations whose challenges both carry sentimental appeal. Dufner after his play-off loss at the US PGA Championship last year; Couples for the fact he's Masters royalty, celebrating the 20th anniversary of his 1992 victory and is defying the onset of time at the grand old age of 52.

Couples was in vintage form on Friday. He made seven birdies in a round of 67 that matched his best ever at The Masters, which came, you guessed it, in the second round 20 years ago on his way to the green jacket. Golf's closest thing to "The Fonz" has come close several times since, and won't be short of support in his quest to become the oldest Major winner in history.

"He's just cool," said Rory McIlroy. "I hope I'm that cool when I'm 52."

McIlroy was two years old when Couples won in 1992, but the Northern Irishman has already matched his haul of Majors and has a chance to go one better on Sunday after a second-round 69 left him one shot off the lead.

McIlroy has talked of "redemption" after his implosion in the final round last year. It's his for the taking and the 2011 US Open champion will be full of confidence going into the weekend. Don't be surprised if he comes out firing at pins and looking to make an aggressive move on Saturday.

Lee Westwood is also very much in the mix. A workmanlike 73 kept him within one of the lead and his hopes of winning a first Major very much alive. Everybody knows the 38-year-old has the game to win at Augusta, but nobody can discount his years of frustration at the Majors as a factor in how he plays from here in on.

The same is true for Sergio Garcia, the mercurial 32-year-old Spaniard who was once talked about as the natural heir to the late Severiano Ballesteros. Like Westwood, Majors have eluded El Nino thus far. For a while he disappeared into the golfing wilderness altogether, but Garcia's 68 on Friday is further proof he has conquered a few of his demons and may yet leave his mark on the biggest stage.

Garcia is one off the pace and eminently capable. And this being the first year at Augusta since Seve's passing, it would mean more than usual should he win.

The same is true of his fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who out-scored his playing partner Tiger Woods by six shots over 36 holes to stand at three under, two shots adrift of Couples and Dufner.

Bubba Watson went one better - the big-hitting left-hander carding a 71 on Friday to join McIlroy, Garcia and 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen in the group at four under par. He too would be a big story, having never won a Major and given his far-reaching appeal in the US.

And then there's 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie, who battled back from a bad start to shoot 72 on Friday and would dearly love to win a Major that's not remembered for the mistakes of somebody else. Lawrie goes into the weekend just two off the lead.

But while the pretenders threaten a fairytale, there remains the lurking presence of three-times champion Phil Mickelson, just three shots off the lead. Mickelson summoned a 68 on Friday and it would be something of a surprise if he's not a factor on Sunday afternoon given his experience.

Woods will surely not be. His game was all over the place on Friday and the way he drove and putted on a way to a 75 cannot bode well for his chances. That said, he remains just eight shots behind and one seriously low round away from making a run. Tiger being Tiger, you can't rule him out.

One thing you can be absolutely sure of - it's going to be a gripping weekend of golf at the The Masters. It always is.

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