AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jason Dufner should have won a major. Fred Couples should have won more.
The two laid-back golfers were tied for the lead at the halfway point of the 76th Masters.
Playing in what he adamantly calls his favorite tournament in the world, the 52-year-old Couples shot a five-under-par 67 Friday at Augusta National Golf Club to join Dufner at five under par. Their 139 totals were one stroke better than five players.
Dufner, a former walk-on at Auburn, shot 70 that included an early double bogey and a bogey on the final hole.
With first-round leader Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen all a stroke back, an exciting weekend is looming. Thirty players were within five shots of the lead.
Starting on a chilly morning, Couples, who routinely battles back problems, was feeling tight on the range. He didn’t bring many expectations with him to the first tee, saying he just wanted to try to hit the ball solid.
“That was really the game plan, not try to do a whole lot of crazy things, just hit the ball solid,” he said. “And I did — and made a few putts — and ended up shooting a lot lower than I thought. Fiveâ€‘under was an incredible round, a very, very good round.”
After Dufner birdied the second and third holes and had assumed a share of the lead, he caught a glimpse of the scoreboard.
“I don’t really think about it, to be honest with you,” he said. “I’m just playing a round of golf. I know the situation and I’m playing a major. I’m playing at Augusta in the Masters.
“I know everything that’s going on. At times I know I that I am leading or behind or whatever it might be in that situation. I’m just trying to have a nice round of golf, play well, commit to my shots and let the rest take care of itself.”
Phil Mickelson put together a solid 68, closing with a birdie, that left him two under par for the tournament, three behind the leaders.
“That got me back in the tournament,” Mickelson said. “I was hoping for one or two more under, but that birdie on 18 felt terrific to finish that way. And to be only three back heading into the weekend feels great, especially after the first 10 holes yesterday.”
Tiger Woods’ expected charge never came. After playing the first three holes in two under par, Woods imploded, showing all kinds of frustration while shooting a 75 that left him eight strokes back in his quest for a fifth Masters title. He was tied for 40th, his worst position after two rounds since 2003.
Westwood was cruising along until crashing at the 18th. The world’s No. 3 player, seeking his first major, started the day at five under and made 10 consecutive pars to open his round. A bogey at the 11th was erased by birdies at the 14th and 15th. That got him to six under par, the lowest anyone had been so far this week. Henrik Stenson and Dufner both reached that point as well.
A three-putt double-bogey at the final hole left Westwood at four under, still solidly in contention.
“I’m not going to be too far off the lead,” Westwood said. “That’s a position you want to be.”
McIlroy, ranked No. 2 in the world, rebounded nicely from an opening double-bogey in the first round. His 69 included six birdies and two bogeys.
“I drove the ball better and whenever you drive the ball well here you can be aggressive with your iron shots,” he said. “It was important to me not to let the start get to me.”
Garcia, in contention for the third major in a row, shot a 68 despite playing with a nagging infected middle finger on his left hand, one he freely showed a reporter who asked about it in the press room afterward.
“It kind of bleeds a little bit every day I play, but I felt better,” he said. “It’s just a little bit uncomfortable. Early in the day it’s worse. As the round goes on it probably opens up a little bit and loses a little of that inflammation.”
Dufner, who hasn’t won on tour, pretty much gave the PGA Championship away last year, blowing a five-stroke lead over the final four holes to allow Keegan Bradley to win. Couples, the 1992 Masters champ, has the kind of talent that has left many saying he should have won more during his career. He’s the second-oldest leader ever at the Masters.
They’ll both be trying to hold off a group of talented chasers today.
“At the beginning of the week if somebody had said this is where I would be with two days left, I would take that and wouldn’t worry about that,” Watson said.