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Couples regains ground after mistake on No. 8

Sunday, April 10, 2011

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As other contenders tried to climb up the leaderboard Saturday, Fred Couples was hoping to get back to where he began the third round.

Fred Couples birdied No. 16 after hitting a 15-foot birdie on No. 15, giving him consecutive birdies for the first time in this year's Masters. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

The 1992 Masters Tournament champion had to rebound from a double bogey on the par-5 eighth and responded by closing strongly to finish with even-par 72 and remain at 5-under as he continued to battle back pain.

Couples bogeyed the first hole, where he was greeted by a patron yelling, "Do it for the old guys," and saw a birdie putt stop just shy of the hole at No. 2 before sinking a 30-foot putt on No. 4 to return to 5-under.

He set himself up for easy tap-ins for par on the next three holes, but a bad decision cost him at the eighth.

The hole is historically Couples' second-strongest -- he was 44-under on it for his career without a double bogey before Saturday.

"I drove it up there a mile and I saw where the pin was. I tried to hit some low-hooking wood up there, and I can barely hit a straight wood shot, let alone try that, and I pulled it into the junk," Couples said. "And then it was a comedy of errors after that."

After the errant shot left him way left of the pin, Couples flew his ball over the green and then left it short on his pitch.

He took a double bogey after missing a 6-footer.

Couples, who at 51 would be the oldest major champion, made par on the next six holes to stay at 3-under.

Besides trying to climb out of the trouble he put himself in at No. 8, Couples was fighting his back. He took a steroid shot two weeks ago to help him play at the Shell Houston Open and in the Masters, and he's worried where that could leave him once its effects lessen.

"I think it's wearing off now," Couples said. "It's supposed to last two weeks. Sunday would be the second week of doing this, so I'm pretty sore. But I keep swinging at it and it's not a hindrance. But I think when this all melts away, I'll be in big trouble. I'll be back to where I was.

"It is what it is. I'll be done after (today), so hopefully I can finish and do well."

Couples, who came in sixth in the 2010 Masters, finished strong Saturday, birdieing consecutive holes for the first time this tournament.

He wedged to 15 feet away on No. 15 and made the putt. At the next hole, a 7-iron to eight feet led to another birdie.

His 34 on the back nine was his best out of three rounds.

His late good play made Couples happy with his round despite his poor judgment at No. 8.

Though there's a logjam on the leaderboard, Couples said he thinks a 6- or 7-under round could move someone into contention.

"With a great round tomorrow, who knows?" Couples said.

Reach Wayne Staats at (706) 823-3425 or wayne.staats@augustachronicle.com.

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