AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Fred Couples will go into the final round of the Masters still in contention to become the oldest champion in tournament history after avoiding the sort of Saturday swoon that took him out of the mix the last two years.
At 54 and playing mostly on the Champions Tour these days, Couples still believes he has a chance to win a second Masters title, 22 years after he won his first and only major championship here in 1992. He’s always said Augusta National is his all-time favorite golf course and the Masters the most special event of all.
Couples posted third rounds of 75 and 77 in 2012 and 2013, respectively, when he either led or was in second place in the tournament after 36 holes. But there was no such meltdown this day. He came in with a 1-over-par 73 and was at 1-under 215 after 54 holes, only four shots behind co-leaders Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth going into Sunday’s final 18.
“I’m playing some pretty good golf,” Couples said, “and I have a shot [Sunday] of shooting some silly round to maybe win. It’s going to take a 65 or 66, but you never know. … It feels like my first year. It’s always exciting and this year is no different. For me, it’s just a lot of fun.”
Smiles for Stadler
Craig Stadler, the 1982 champion, was 15-over after 36 holes and missed the cut here for the seventh consecutive year. Still, he’s going to be smiling his way around all weekend at Augusta National, watching his 34-year-old son, Kevin, compete in his first Masters.
Stadler said the 2014 Masters almost certainly will be his last, with one possible caveat, though he will still continue to play on the Champions Tour.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is it,” he said. “I’m done. But if they call me weeks before and say, ‘We want to pair you with Kevin,’ I would probably play. I’d think that would be the only way.”
The elder Stadler believes Augusta National is a nice fit for his son’s game, and with Kevin staying in contention Saturday with a 72 that left him four off the lead at 1-under 215 in a four-way tie for 10th place, that now seems obvious.
Rory McIlroy, considered among the favorites heading into the tournament, was first off the tee in the third round after making the cut on the number. He finished in under 3 1/2 hours and was beaten by a shot by the man who accompanied him — a noncompeting marker, Augusta native and club member Jeff Knox, one of the finest amateurs in the area.
McIlroy shot 1-under 71 and needed birdies on three of his last four holes to do it. Knox, who holds the course record of 61 from the member’s tees, posted a 70, and drew effusive praise from his far better-known playing partner.
“Jeff is a great player,” said McIlroy, a two-time major champion. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone putt these greens as well as he does around here, really impressive. I was thinking of getting him to read a few of my putts out there. He played really well and couldn’t have been more helpful.”
McIlroy is at 3-over 219 and said his goal is a Sunday round in the 60s, get into under-par numbers and possibly improve on his best finish here, a tie for 15th in 2011 when he led after 54 holes but posted 80 in the final round.