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Founded October 1, 2010

Tom Watson and Fred Couples boast a combined 67 Masters, and they’re still going

This news story was published on April 2, 2012.
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By Tom Smith, McClatchy Newspapers –

The temperatures are in the 80s, and Tiger Woods is in the spotlight.

The golf season must be about to start for real.

Sure, the PGA Tour has been going since January. But for many golfers and fans of the game, the official start of the season will occur Thursday when the Masters begins in Augusta, Ga.

One player who is ready is Kansas City’s own Tom Watson.

Despite being forced to withdraw from a Champions Tour event last month in California because of a wrist injury, Watson is set to play in his 39th Masters.

“There’s no problem at all,” Watson said. “It (the wrist) is 100 percent.”

Watson will be playing in just his second tournament of the year. He tied for seventh at the Champions Tour’s Mitsubishi Electric Championship in January in Hawaii.

Watson said he has been doing a lot of practicing, but he won’t know how good his game is for sure until he gets to Augusta.

“I drove the ball well last year,” Watson said. “There are a lot of holes that they have tightened up. The key is to keep the ball in play. My iron game caused me some problems last year, so maybe I should be working on that more.”

Watson, 62, had rounds of 79 and 72 last year and missed the cut for the 14th time in his career. The year before that, however, Watson showed that he can still be competitive, finishing in 18th place with a total of 1-under 287.

“My goal is to keep it at par or under,” Watson said. “I can’t afford to shoot 75 or 76.”

Watson said it is crucial for him to be successful on holes 5, 14 and 17, which are more difficult for him to reach in regulation than for younger players.

“The proper approach is tough,” Watson said, “because I have to hit a pretty long club into those greens. My game hasn’t lengthened, unlike the kids.”

Another player who isn’t a kid anymore but hopes to play well this week is Fred Couples.

Couples, 52, will be in the field for the 28th time. He has made the cut 25 times with 11 top-10 finishes, including a victory at Augusta National in 1992.

“I do know that course really, really well,” Couples said. “It seems like I can get around there even better than most courses that I like and play. But, again, it all comes down to (hitting) the right shots.”

Couples has played well recently on the Champions Tour, tying for eighth place in the Toshiba Classic on March 18 and winning the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic last Sunday.

“I wait the whole year to come and play here,” Couples said last year at Augusta. “This is my favorite event.”

It’s also the favorite event of many fans who watch the sport on television. Last year’s final round on CBS was watched by 35.8 million people.

“Many people who follow golf on TV like the Masters because it is always played on the same course and people are familiar with the holes,” Watson said. “And they like the fact that there aren’t too many commercials.”

Watson, who won the event in 1977 and 1981, said he hasn’t decided how long he will continue to play in the Masters. Past champions get a lifetime exemption.

“I’m playing this year,” Watson said. “That’s all that matters.”


FIVE players to watch The 76th Masters


AGE: 24

COUNTRY: Australia

2012 PGA TOUR RECORD: No top-10 finishes (but three top-25s) in four events this year and $247,831 in earnings.

WHY HE CAN WIN: He showed that he can play well at Augusta in his first Masters try last year, finishing in a tie for second place with countryman Adam Scott.


AGE: 34

COUNTRY: England

2012 PGA TOUR RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in four events and $674,100 in earnings.

WHY HE CAN WIN: Donald has climbed to the top of the world rankings with the help of a fourth-place finish last year at Augusta and a win last month in the PGA Tour’s Transitions Championship.


AGE: 22

COUNTRY: Northern Ireland

2012 PGA TOUR RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in three events and $2,392,000 in earnings.

WHY HE CAN WIN: McIlroy fell apart in the final round of the Masters last year, shooting 80, but he proved he can win a major two months later with his triumph at the U.S. Open.


AGE: 27

COUNTRY: South Africa

2012 PGA TOUR RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in four events and $674,100 in earnings.

WHY HE CAN WIN: He did it last year, shooting a 66 in the final round for a 2-stroke win.


AGE: 36

COUNTRY: United States

2012 PGA TOUR RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in five events and $1,779,000 in earnings.

WHY HE CAN WIN: Woods, a four-time Masters champion, topped a PGA Tour event for the first time since 2009 by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational last Sunday. Even when he dealing with injuries and personal problems, he played well at Augusta, finishing fourth each of the last two years. WHEN/WHERE: Thursday-April 8 in Augusta, Ga.

THE COURSE: Augusta National Golf Club, 7, 435 yards, par 72.

PURSE: To be determined ($8 million in 2010).

FIELD: 97 (91 professionals, six amateurs).

CUT: Top 44 and ties, and anyone within 10 shots of the lead, after two rounds.


LAST YEAR: Schwartzel became the first Masters champion to close with four straight birdies, and that’s about what it took to separate himself on one of the most mesmerizing final rounds ever at Augusta National. Eight players had at least a share of the lead Sunday. Rory McIlroy started with a 4-shot lead and shot 80. Tiger Woods made up a 7-shot deficit in nine holes, but for him, the Masters ended on the back nine Sunday. Schwartzel took the outright lead with a birdie on the 17th and then added one for good measure on the 18th for a 66 and a 2-shot win over Adam Scott and Jason Day.

KU CONNECTION: Gary Woodland, a former Jayhawk golfer and Washburn University basketball player, no doubt spent Saturday watching the Kansas-Ohio State game in the Final Four. But this week his focus will be back on golf as he plays in the Masters for the second time. He finished 24th in his debut at Augusta last year.

KEY STATISTIC: The Masters is the only major in which no one has ever posted all four rounds in the 60s.

NOTEWORTHY: Eight of the top 20 players in the world have won on the PGA Tour this year.

TELEVISION: Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m., ESPN; Saturday, 2:30 p.m., CBS; April 8, 1 p.m., CBS.

ON THE WEB: Fans can follow and see seven live video channels.

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