Old man Couples in position yet again

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Fred Couples wakes up most days wondering if his back will allow him to walk pain free, let alone play golf.

Driving down Magnolia Lane seems to be the perfect medicine.

The 1992 Masters champion is at it again, getting his name on the leaderboard at Augusta National, now at age 53.

Couples bogeyed the final hole Thursday during the opening round of the Masters to shoot 4-under 68, but hardly seemed concerned. He hit a perfect drive, and it simply trickled into the second fairway bunker. Not much to get upset about.

"I get fired up,'' said Couples, who is playing in his 29th Masters and has missed just two cuts. "But I have to drive it really well. I stepped up on [No.] 1 today and hit a really good one and I hit a good one to five and a good one on seven and I hit a good one on eight. All good driving holes.

"People think this place is wide open. Drive it to the right on No. 7 and see how many pars you're going to make. Or hit it in that bunker on No. 8 off the tee and you're not going to make any birdies. So I did that well and it just makes the course play easier for me.''

Since turning 50, Couples has now shot five of 13 rounds in the 60s at Augusta National. He has finished sixth, 15th and 12th over the past three years, respectively. He and Lee Westwood are the only players to finish among the top 15 in each of the past three years.

He is 2 strokes back of leaders Sergio Garcia and Marc Leishman, tied for fourth with Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and 2008 champion Trevor Immelman.

"Not too surprised,'' said Joe LaCava, Couples' caddie of some 20 years who now works for Tiger Woods and saw his old boss during practice this week.

"Thought he drove it beautifully in practice rounds the last two days and he knows the greens as well as anyone.''

Couples many times has said this is his favorite event. Augusta National inspires him, and he works to get his game in shape to be ready. He hit just 10 greens in regulation but needed only 25 putts.

"If I can come out and feel good and pound my driver, it will make tomorrow seem easier, too,'' he said. "I know how to play the course. That's not the problem. It's where the ball goes. ... I'm going to come out tomorrow and do everything I can to keep this thing going, because I know I can play this course. And if I hit it like that, I can play it every day.''