Mickelson confident while Couples turns back clock

Jim SLATER
Phil Mickelson, a five-time major champion vying for a fourth Augusta victory, struggled late to shoot 73 and was another stroke adrift sharing 10th on 144

Former Masters champions Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson are contenders for historic age-mark triumphs this weekend at Augusta National if they turn back the clock to their green jacket prime.

Couples, the 1992 Masters winner, fired a two-under par 70 Friday in a windy second round of the 81st Masters to share sixth on one-under par 143 after 36 holes, three shots off the midway lead.

"I'm not going to be thinking about winning the tournament until the back nine on Sunday, but I've got a long way to go before I worry about that," Couples said. "Someone's going to win Sunday and if I play well enough maybe I'll have a shot."

Couples, 57, could become the oldest major winner in history, eclipsing the age mark set by compatriot Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.

Mickelson, a five-time major champion vying for a fourth Augusta victory, struggled late to shoot 73 and was another stroke adrift sharing 10th on 144 but confident he could claim his first victory since winning the British Open.

"I'm very optimistic I'm going to make a good run," Mickelson said. "I'm in a good spot heading into the weekend, just feel I should be a few more ahead."

Mickelson, two months shy of his 47th birthday, would break the Masters age record set by 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus, who won the 1986 Masters at age 46 for his sixth green jacket and last major crown.

"I struggled a little bit with the putter," said Mickelson, who complained wind blew putts off course in the first two days before moving out late Friday. "Hopefully with calm conditions I'll get that thing dialed in because I've been putting really well. And if I can have a good putting weekend I'm going to have a good chance."

Couples will be paired Saturday with 22-year-old Spaniard Jon Rahm in the fourth-to-last group. Rahm was born two years and seven months after Couples captured his green jacket.

"I feel like my age is still OK because I can drive it far enough," Couples said. "I'm not long like I used to be on this kind of course, but it still plays where I can reach a lot of these greens with shorter clubs to make the ball stop around the hole. I've been hitting the ball very solid."

- 'Goal is to keep fighting' -

Couples missed last year and struggled in 2015 due to back problems, but before that had been in the top 10 five years in a row after 36 holes, leading in 2012. But his best finish in any of those outings was sixth in 2010.

"I'm a competitor, so I like to believe in myself. I've had a lot of good finishes here and my goal is to keep fighting with these guys," Couples said. "Tomorrow is a tough day. I'm not thinking winning this tournament, but I'm thinking continuing to play well and see what happens."

Couples birdied three of the first five holes Friday and answered bogeys at 16 and 17 with a closing birdie.

Mickelson closed with three bogeys in the final five holes Friday after flirting with the lead earlier on the back nine.

"I fought hard. It was a hard, difficult day," Mickelson said. "I look at every hole as a tough par. When we have some good birdie opportunities, I try to take advantage. I had some easy pars that I made bogeys on. And you just can't do that."