Move Over, Junior: 50-Plus Crowd Makes Masters Statement
AUGUSTA, Ga. — This is the year of the young guns, right?
Week after week, a fresh face hoists a trophy or makes a charge up the leaderboard on Sunday.
Not so much at Augusta.
Fred Couples, 54, entered Saturday tied for seventh place at 2-under, and Bernhard Langer, Larry Mize, Vijay Singh, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sandy Lyle joined Couples in the 50-plus crowd who are hanging around for the weekend at the Masters.
“Top-five player” Patrick Reed exited his first major early after carding 73-79. Studs like Harris English and Keegan Bradley and recent winners Matt Every and Matt Jones will be watching the final rounds from their living room.
A dozen golfers 50-and-older teed off on Thursday, and six remain. Only 13 players in their twenties are left after 29 entered the tournament.
“I’m not here just to play golf and think I can’t compete on this course,” Couples said after his 71-71 put him on the first page of the leaderboard. “I can’t compete with these guys over a year, but on one week I can compete. I have to do that tomorrow.”
The anomaly is Jordan Spieth, who is proving more and more to be the exception, not the rule. The 20-year-old playing in his first Masters eagled No. 15 on Friday and tapped in for birdie on No. 18 to jump into a four-way tie for third place heading into Saturday. As SI.com’s Michael Rosenberg noted on Thursday, Spieth gets it. Reed, his playing partner for the two opening rounds, doesn’t. At least not yet.
In a pre-tournament press conference, Reed discounted experience as a factor to preforming well at Augusta when he said, “You know now if a guy is experienced and he’s playing as (well) as you are, he’ll probably have an edge, but at the same time, I feel like whoever is playing the best nowadays is going to win.”
To contrast, Spieth spent time watching McIlroy maneuver the course and often chatted with McIlroy’s caddie during breaks on the tee box to glean as much information as possible.
“You could see certain spots where Rory hit shots that looked like they were off-line, but in fact they were right where they needed to be, whereas Patrick and I were going more towards the pin,” Spieth said after closing his initial round playing with the group’s 24-year-old elder statesman Rory McIlroy. “You see certain shots he hits where he knows the golf course, and we’re still learning it.”
He’s a good student.
Mize, 1987 Masters champ, said the older guys can use their experience from decades of playing the same course even if they are 20-30 yards shorter off the tee. Mize entered Saturday one stroke behind Rickie Fowler, who wasn’t born when Mize won his green jacket.
“I think anytime you come back to where you’ve won and had success, you have good feelings,” Mize said. “There’s definitely local knowledge here.”
Experience can only go so far in a major; No player older than 50 has ever won one. At 48 years, 4 months and 18 days, Julius Boros is the oldest player to win a major after claiming the 1968 PGA Championship. But don’t tell Couples.
“Can I win it?” Couples said. “Yeah. That’s why I’m here.”