- Associated Press - Saturday, April 7, 2012

AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - Well, that was fun while it lasted.

A day after turning the clock back 20 years and grabbing a share of the lead at the Masters, Freddie Couples looked more suited for the Champions Tour than a green jacket Saturday. The 52-year-old blew up with a 75, and is barely within sight of the leaders going into Sunday’s final round.

“My only excuses were some of the swings I made,” Couples said. “I actually felt pretty good. I’m tired now, but I felt pretty good.”

Playing on the 20th anniversary of his green jacket, the Augusta National fan favorite heard cheers from every corner of the course. Forget these young phenoms. It was the grey-haired guy with the West Coast cool who the fans were pulling for.

“They’re yelling for everyone,” Couples said. “I wish a couple of them would have come out and played a few shots for me today.”

Couples wasn’t the only one going in the wrong direction on Moving Day. Jason Dufner, his co-leader after the second round, finished his round with back-to-back bogeys and also signed for a 75. Rory McIlroy, whose green jacket was being measured until his infamous back-nine implosion last year, posted a 42 on the front nine.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, who began the day two strokes off the lead, tumbled out of contention with five bogeys on the front nine.

Of course, nobody had the crowd behind them like Couples.

His day started going downhill with a pair of bogeys on the first two holes. But to hear Couples tell it, it really disintegrated on No. 5, after he hit a wonderful drive into the middle of the fairway. Standing 175 yards from the hole with a 7 iron in hand, he hit a huge hook into the first cut of rough, came up short on the chip and needed three more to get down.

“A 6 from 175 yards in the fairway, that’s high school material,” Couples said. “And I panicked a little there.”

Driving the ball well _ he hit 12 of 14 fairways _ Couples got back within three shots of the lead with birdies on Nos. 8, 11 and 12. Was he ready to make another run for the ages?

Not really. He missed a 6-footer for birdie on 13 and then, with the leaders starting to make birdies in front of him, he tried to clear the water from 255 yards out on the par-5 15th.

“I was trying to cut it into the bunker” on the right side of the green, Couples said, “and I just kind of hit it straight.”

Straight into the water. A few minutes later, he was tapping in for 6 _ his third of the day.

“I’m fairly disappointed,” Couples said. “I drove the ball really, really well. I stood there with the perfect clubs and I look back, and I see three sixes. That’s pretty bad.”

Even with that aching back, he has to return Sunday. He said he’ll try his best, but he’s not trying to build any hope for all those Freddie Fans out there.

“I’m not going to sit here and say I need to shoot a 65. I’m not going to shoot a 65,” Couples said. “It would be nice to sit here and tell you that, but I’m going to go out and play my best and certainly shoot better than 75. I’d hope I could do better than that.”


NOTHING TO PROVE: Quick! Name the player with the most majors over the last five years.

No, it’s not that Tiger Woods guy. Phil Mickelson is a good guess, but it’s not him, either.

Try Padraig Harrington, who won back-to-back British Opens in 2007 and 2008, as well as the 2008 PGA Championship.

It may have been a few years since the Irishman won a major _ been a while since he’s been in contention, really. But he feels no pressure going into Sunday’s final round at the Masters, even if he is quietly lurking five strokes behind leader Peter Hanson.

“I don’t need to go out there and prove anything tomorrow,” Harrington said. “I’m in a great position in that sense. I’ve won three majors, I’m going to win more majors, so I don’t have to do it tomorrow. That’s not my one-and-only chance.

“There are players out there who have not won a major who feel like, `I have to take this chance because they have not come around.’ Having won three, I realize that they do actually come around and they will come around. I don’t need to panic tomorrow.”

Harrington tied for fifth at Augusta National in 2008, but has missed the cut the last two years. He has only one top-10 finish on the PGA Tour this year, and that was back in February. Last weekend in Houston, he was 71st.

But even if he’s struggling with his game, there’s no denying Harrington has talent. After playing the first 11 holes at 1 over, he closed with five birdies in his last six holes.

“I can pick three or four tournaments this year where I’ve had four or five in a row in six holes in terms of birdies, so I made hay when it was going well,” Harrington said. “When things are going well, you have to make birdies. That’s very much what Augusta is like. When things are going, take your chances, because you’ll get a few which go against you, and you’ve got to make up for those dropped shots at times.”


BACK IN THE GAME: Henrik Stenson already has a snowman and a double bogey on his scorecard at the Masters.

Yet somehow, he’s still hanging around.

Despite a bogey on the final hole Saturday, the Swede scratched out a 2-under 70 that left him five strokes behind Peter Hanson going into the final round

“I’m not worried that the wheels are going to come off tomorrow because they have been off so many times already,” Stenson said. “It’s just fun to go out and try and make birdies and save myself out of impossible situations when they occur.”

He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Stenson was one hole from being the first-round leader when he blew up with a quadruple-bogey 8 on 18. It matched the highest score on the 18th hole in Masters history. The damage came a hole earlier Friday, when he made a 6 on 17.

He’s had to scramble all week, mixing great shots with utterly dismal ones.

“It’s definitely a little bit of a roller coaster,” Stenson said. “At this course I have got to try and stay very patient and not lose your head when you are making an easy mistake or two. That kind of happens to everybody around here. So I’ve had a bit of that already this week.

“Hopefully, I can stay away from most of that tomorrow.”


LUCKY No. 17: Peter Hanson’s son, Tim, might be his lucky charm.

Hanson’s golf balls all have the number “17” on them in honor of Tim, who was born last Nov. 17 at 5:17 p.m. _ or 17:17, if you’re going by a 24-hour clock, as Europeans do.

“I asked the guys over at Taylor Made to put his name on the ball, and they were kind enough to do it,” Hanson said.

Despite making only his second appearance at Augusta National, the Swede takes a 1-stroke lead into Sunday’s final round of the Masters.


WOODLAND WITHDRAWS: Gary Woodland’s left wrist ached on the green, off the tee and everywhere in between.

By the end of the day, he was simply counting strokes until he could be finished.

“I probably should have stopped,” Woodland said after playing the final 10 holes with pain shooting through his entire arm. “It was a long, long day.”

Woodland, who began Saturday four strokes off the lead at the Masters, withdrew after completing his third round Saturday. He played the last 11 holes at 11 over, making par on only three of them, and finished with a 13-over 85.

“I felt like I was right in the heart of the golf tournament. I thought I had a pretty good chance,” he said. “For this to happen, I’m pretty upset right now.”

Woodland felt some pain in the wrist earlier this year, when he was hitting a lot of balls in an effort to rework his swing. It wasn’t anything that lingered, however.

But the wrist was sore and stiff Saturday morning and, despite taking some anti-inflammatories, the pain got progressively worse as the day went on. When he made a swing on No. 8, pain shot up his arm and down through his hand. The athletic trainer who examined Woodland on No. 11 urged him to quit. So did his caddie.

But Woodland pressed on. His left wrist was heavily taped, and he held a bag of ice on it between shots.

“The trainer didn’t think I could do anymore damage,” he said. “I worked too hard to get here. I wanted to at least finish today.”


MUST-SEE TV: The Masters is a smash hit.

ESPN’s telecast of the second round Friday drew an average of 4.1 million viewers, the third-largest audience ever to watch golf on cable, according to fast nationals from the Nielsen Co. It also was a 14 percent increase from last year’s average of 3.5 million.

The 4.9 million who tuned in for ESPN’s coverage of the first round in 2010, when Tiger Woods returned to competition following a shocking sex scandal, is still the record for the largest golf audience on cable. Woods’ playoff victory over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open, which gave him his 14th major, is second at 4.8 million.

Friday’s telecast also had a 3.3 household rating, up 14 percent from last year. Ratings measure the percentage of homes with televisions tuned into a program.

Average viewership for the two days was 3.4 million, up from 3 million last year. The two-day average rating was a 2.8, a 12 percent increase from last year.


AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.

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