Couples drinking in Augusta National's fountain of youth

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Fred Couples twisted one way, then the other, wincing as he tried to loosen up his aching back. It's moments like this that make the 50-year-old Seattle native feel twice his age.

Get him to the Masters, though, and he plays like he’s half his age.

Four years after playing in the final group, Couples is lurking again at Augusta National. His 4-under-par 68 on Saturday put him five strokes behind leader Lee Westwood and four behind Phil Mickelson – pretty good for a guy more accustomed to tearing up the Champions Tour these days.

“I know time flies, but (today) I have a shot,” Couples said. “I’m way behind, but I’ve heard other people talk about it, so I might as well say the same thing. If I can shoot a low score, I maybe can post a score and see what happens.”

A few more shots like he had on No. 14 and No. 15 would help.

He put his approach shot to about 3 feet on 14 and tapped in for a birdie. As he left the 15th tee, Couples motioned to Mickelson, playing in the group behind him, to get it going. Did Lefty ever, holing out from the 14th fairway for an eagle.

“I wanted that golf ball that he holed in at 14. That’s what I wanted,” Couples said. “He couldn’t hear me, but I wanted that eagle ball.”

Instead, he got one of his own.

Couples flew the green with his second shot on the par-5 15th, leaving his ball at least 30 feet from the hole. He made a perfect chip and the ball rolled straight at the hole, the noise level rising the closer the ball got to the cup. When it rolled in, the crowd roared and Couples shook his fist.

Fans in all three grandstands around 15 gave him a standing ovation, and Couples took off his hat and waved.

“I just love this place,” he said. “I have a shot (today) if I can shoot a crazy score.”

Augusta really does have a way of bringing out the Seattle native’s best – no matter what his age. He won here in 1992, and has nine other top 10 finishes – including a tie for third in 2006.

He arrived at Augusta National this year playing some of his best golf in years. He had won his last three starts on the Champions Tour, and a 66 on Thursday showed he could hang with the youngsters, too. It made him the oldest player to hold the outright lead after the opening round of this tournament.

But he slid out of contention – or so it seemed – because of his creaky back and poor putting that led to a 3-over 75 on Friday.

When Jack Nicklaus won in 1986, he shot a 30 on the back nine. Couples doesn’t think he has to match that. But with Westwood, Mickelson and some guy named Tiger Woods all in front of him, he knows he’ll have to go low to have any hope of catching them.

“They’re not going to shoot much over par. I need 65 or 66 to get in,” Couples said. “It would be a miracle, but we’ll see.”

Network has Tiger covered

Masters coverage on CBS feels like the Tiger Woods Invitational – and for good reason.

In its first day of coverage on Saturday, CBS made certain that Woods’ every step was covered, particularly since television ratings for the first two rounds on ESPN showed how much he was the draw. ESPN had nearly 5 million viewers for the first round on Thursday, its best for a golf event. Viewership slipped to 3.9 million on Friday, when Woods finished his round just as ESPN was beginning its coverage.

Youth is served

A few days from now, Italy’s Matteo Manassero will be back in high school.

This weekend, though, golfing fans at the Masters are getting a glimpse of perhaps a future champion.

The 16-year-old is the youngest player to make the cut at the Masters. He won’t finish in the top 15 – as he did at last year’s British Open – but his 73 on Saturday put him at 4-over, and his composure has made quite an impression on observers.

“My game makes me more comfortable and assured of my abilities,” Manassero said.