Fred Couples is confident Tiger Woods can win the Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Up close and personal, Fred Couples watched Tiger Woods practice for nine holes Monday and believed Woods could win the Masters.

I repeat: A 62-year veteran celebrating the 30th anniversary of his own Augusta National triumph — with Tiger’s current caddy, Joe LaCava, on his bag — spent the better part of three hours in Woods’ company and came to the conclusion that a man whose right leg was almost amputated less than 14 months ago can win his sixth green jacket on Sunday.

“If he can run 72 holes around here, he’ll keep up,” Couples said. “He’s too good. He’s too good.”

As a disclaimer of sorts, it’s worth nothing that Freddie is a dear friend of Tiger’s. They exchange text messages almost every day, with Couples teasing him about this and that and Tiger providing updates on his son’s new clubs, football matches and his daughter’s stunning Hall of Fame speech.

“Then suddenly he said, ‘I’m going to Augusta,'” Couples reported.

And go to Augusta, Mr. Woods.

He played a practice round with his son Charlie and Justin Thomas last week and played the back nine on Sunday where he caught up with 27-year-old Australian and Masters rookie Cameron Davis, who took the opportunity to hack Tiger’s brain over the course. Davis thought Woods looked “pretty solid,” but added that he “walked a bit slow going up some hills on 17 and 18.”

That grind didn’t stop Woods from sending a statement to couples on Sunday night.

“Dude,” the text read, “we’re playing tomorrow at 3 o’clock. We’ll see you on the tee.”

“You bet,” Couples replied.

Tiger Woods and Fred Couples during a Masters practice round on Monday.

But for seasoned tiger-watchers, aware of its early wake-ups and impulsive nature, turning up at first tee at 7am on Monday, before the darkness bends to dawn, seemed like a good idea, just in case .

A gallery guard in white overalls working on his 27th master named Vic Mixon stood all alone on the tee as the sun rose. He had worked at No. 1 for 15 years and recalled that Woods had the worst opening drive he had ever seen, a carabiner that sailed over the trees, over the ninth hole and through another set of trees before he abruptly stopped the eighth fairway. Tiger made par from there. Of course he did.

Woods’ caddy LaCava studied the course with Thomas’ caddy Jim “Bones” Mackay and confirmed that his man would be playing in the afternoon and that he was looking good. Indeed, after lunchtime, Woods ended up on the practice green chipping, hitting balls out of bunkers and working his driver.

At 2:34 p.m., Woods grinned devilishly as security cleared a path for him from the clubhouse to the putting green, which was suddenly surrounded by six or seven fans. At 2:36, defending champion Hideki Matsuyama walked past this green without being noticed by a single one of those fans.

At 2:41, amid a thunderous roar, Woods made his way to the first tee, joining Couples and Thomas. Only Tiger could turn a Monday dress rehearsal into something that felt like Sunday’s main event. At 2:46 he whipped his opening shot into the fairway, to another thunderous roar. As Woods walked uphill to his ball, he leaned forward and moved like a 46-year-old man struggling with a stiff back and a sore foot. His gait seemed uneven and he seemed to limp back and forth in his stance.


As he marked a ball on the sixth green, Woods leaned forward and put all his weight on his badly damaged right leg – maybe a good sign. Another good sign – He hammered his drive on the par 5 like the old tiger, not the old tiger.

“He bombed it,” Couples said. “I know JT isn’t the biggest hitter on the tour, but I know he’s damn long. [Tiger] was with him to flush it.”

Twenty-five years after Woods’ first Masters win, that was quite a sight to behold.

“He looked phenomenal,” said Couples, despite the Augusta National’s unforgiving hills that make the course, in Freddie’s words, “run brutally.”

Fred Couples and Tiger Woods
Fred Couples (l.), Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods go to the course in Augusta on Monday.

On a good day, Woods can still hit the best and there’s no question about that. But despite winning a 91-hole US Open 14 years ago while playing through stress fractures and a torn cruciate ligament in his left leg, it wouldn’t be mind-blowing to see Woods run 72 holes on a right leg mangled in its horrific condition from the car crash a little over a year ago?

“It’s not shocking because he’s the best player that’s ever played,” Couples said. “You give him a few minutes, give him some good legs and he swings like that. … But now comes the running part of it, and I’m not a guy who’s going to speculate on that. I checked it out today, it looked phenomenal.”

And let’s face it, if Tiger Woods looks phenomenal at Augusta National, even on one leg, something unforgettable will happen. Fred Couples is confident Tiger Woods can win the Masters


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