One of the unique traditions of the Masters is past champions are invited for life, meaning many tee it up well into their 60s.
And some, like Fred Couples, compete to make the cut… or even win the thing.
After a 71 Thursday morning, the 63-year-old has now opened with a round of par or better at the Masters for the seventh time since turning 50, but it was his first time doing so since 2018.
Couples started slow, making bogeys on 5 and 9 before he finally turned it on by flagging his approach at the 12th. A birdie on the iconic par-3 was the first in a run of four in six holes before a three-putt on 18 ended his round.
Another solid round Friday and Couples will be in good shape to make his first cut at Augusta since 2018.
So what was the inspiration for the good form? Couples said it was his first round grouping with Russell Henley and Alex Noren.
“Beautiful pairing. I don’t know them,” Couples said. “I always watch Russell Henley play because it’s intriguing. When he gets the lead, he usually wins. And Alex Noren, I just like everything about him.
“So when I got that pairing, I feel really comfortable.”
If you think Couples is complimenting his playing partners from Thursday, that sounds right. Until you hear what he says next.
“Why is that? Well, because none of them are overpowering greatness,” Couples said.
Sure, Henley and Noren are not the best players in the world, and neither beat Couples on Thursday — Henley managed 73 while Noren struggled to 78 — so it isn’t the least accurate statement in the world. Yet it was an interesting word choice, to say the least.
“I don’t think they’d be mad to say that,” Couples said immediately after.
Couples said the pairing with Henley and Noren allowed him to feel he could compete with them, instead of being blown away by guys who bomb it 320 on every swing.
On Thursday, Henlery averaged 280 yards off the tee while Noren averaged 285 for their drives on 5 and 15. Couples was actually the longest player in the group at 293 yards on the two holes.
Whatever the root of the resurgent form was for Couples, who shot 60 in the final round of a PGA Tour Champions event last fall, it’s a good sign. In six of the seven times he’s made the cut since turning 50, he’s gone on to finish in the top 20.
But will the comfortable pairing carry over tomorrow? Couples didn’t want to assume.
“Tomorrow may be different,” he said. “I know Alex got off to a bad start, but he’s a very, very qualified quality player. 8:36 was — as long as I could get started at that time, it was pretty good.”
The trio will play at 11:42 a.m. ET on Friday.