AUGUSTA — Fred Couples has said before should he win the Masters again, he would walk away.
“You asked me that last year, and I said, ‘Yeah, I would quit,’ ” Couples said with a laugh. “I’m going to quit when I win this thing. I swear. I’m going to retire.”
The 53-year-old playing his 29th Masters birdied No. 18 on Friday for a two-day total of 139. At 5-under par, he is one stroke behind leader Jason Day.
“It’s probably not ever going to happen,” Couples continued, “but I’m going to retire.”
After steady overnight and early morning rain soaked Augusta National, the golf course began to show its teeth as the sun came out and the winds picked up. Couples said being able to draw on the experience of playing 28 previous tournaments here made the difference.
“I’ve played so many rounds here that I feel pretty comfortable on some of these shots,” he said. “You still have to hit a good one, but the more times you play this place, it helps.”
Couples has flirted with the leader board in each of his previous three visits to Augusta. He finished sixth, 12th and 15th in that span. Last year, Couples shot a 72 on the opening day, then scorched the course for a 5-under 67 before fading in the final two rounds.
This year, coming into this week, Couples had grave concerns he could repeat the 2011 start.
“I was really playing horrible and (if) you came up and said, you know, you can win at Augusta and this and that, I’d say no way,” Couples said.
Couples arrived on Sunday and immediately went to work, standing taller to generate more club speed.
“I did tee off Thursday with the idea of playing well, and now it’s Friday afternoon, late,” he said. “I mean, I’m surprised, but I’m not going to freak out over it.
“I would like to have another run,” he continued. “Hopefully, (today) will be a little different and I will play well and have a shot at Sunday. That’s my goal, but it’s hard. I’m not going to kid you. It’s a hard course. I’m really tired and I’m swinging hard at every drive I hit.”
Calling it a controversy would not be accurate, but plenty of players voiced their disappointment when 14-year-old Guan Tianlang was assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play on No. 17.
Tournament officials deemed Tianlang’s group — which included Ben Crenshaw and Matteo Manassero — was out of position when it reached the No. 10 tee. Officials began timing Tianlang on No. 12, then issued a warning on No. 13.
The penalty came after his second shot on No. 17. The resulting bogey dropped him to 4-over and perilously close to missing the cut.
“I respect the decision they make,” Tianlang said after he finished.
The penalty rattled him momentarily.
“I think (it did) a little bit on the 17th green, and I didn’t make that par putt,” he said.
Tianlang said in the future he needs to improve his decision-making. The pivotal moment came on No. 13 when the wind abruptly changed direction and he struggled to adjust.
“I’m sick. I’m sick for him,” Crenshaw said. “He’s 14 years old. When you get the wind blowing out here, believe me, you’re going to change your mind a lot. I’m sorry, I’m a player. It is not easy to get around this golf course the way it is set up for two days.”
Phil Mickelson came into Friday thinking the conditions would be right for players to separate themselves. For eight holes, he appeared to be among that select group.
He was 1-under for the day and 2-under for the tournament when the approach at No. 9 dealt him a harsh blow, knocking a wedge into the bunker.
“And I hit just an awful shot in the bunker,” Mickelson said. “And then I had a pretty easy bunker shot. It was on an upslope, a good lie, and I caught it half-spin, 15-, 18-feet long.”
Smarting over the resulting bogey, Mickelson bogeyed No. 10 and double bogeyed No. 12. He would finish with a 76 for a two-day total of 147, 3-over par.
“I was disappointed,” Mickelson said. “After I doubled 12, I came back with a birdie, I was only 1-over for the tournament, so I could have gotten right back to even or 1-under. … I made a lot of mistakes today. I made a lot of poor mistakes that I just can’t do around here.”
Daniel Island resident Russell Henley celebrated his 24th birthday by carding an 81 for a two-day total of 153.
Henley had three birdies and three bogeys in firing a 72 on Thursday, but found himself in hot water immediately on Friday with a bogey on No. 2, then a sequence of bogey-double bogey-bogey after a par on No. 3. He finished the front nine with a 6-over 42, before recording his first birdie on No. 10.
He played slightly better the rest of the way, but missed the cut to end his first visit to Augusta National.
Henley entered this week with nine career starts as a professional on the PGA Tour. In his professional debut, he won the Sony Open in Hawaii to earn his invitation to the Masters.