AUGUSTA, Ga. -- In the Champions Locker room Friday night, Fred Couples watched the flat screen TV and looked on a computer at the scores of the final groups completing their rounds at Augusta National. Two locker room attendants told the 1992 Masters champion that his cut streak was still alive, but Couples didn't have much hope. "I guess I'll find out when I get home," he said, packing a pair of shoes in a plastic bag, grabbing a handful of hats and two boxes of balls.
To use those balls and play on the weekend for a record 24th-straight time in the Masters, Couples needed help from Luke Donald, Stuart Appleby and Henrik Stenson. They were all at three over par until Donald bogeyed the 18th. But once Appleby birdied 18, the cut was locked in at three over and it was officially over, a run that began in 1983.
Couples' disappointment was more about not contending than not playing on the weekend. He was coming off a T-4 in the Shell Houston Open and Thursday and Friday at Augusta National he drove the ball long enough and straight enough to set up birdie chances -- but either not getting the ball close enough on his approaches or not capitalizing when he did left him frustrated. "Yesterday (76) was the killer," Couples said. "And the way I drove it today, I should have shot no worse than 70 and I shot 72."
A year ago at the Masters, Couples was in so much back pain he could hardly walk. He finished T-30 and disappeared for the remainder of the season, not playing again until the Skins Game in November. This week's Masters was his eighth tournament of the 2008 and he was mostly pain free. What hurt now was his pride.
Extending the streak came down to making a downhill 10-footer at the 18th. From the tower, close friend and college teammate Jim Nantz told him the cut was going to be either three over or four over. "When I hit it, I thought I made it," Couples said. But his ball slid by the cup on the low side.
Leaving the locker room, Couples bumped into 72-year-old Gary Player, the man whose cut streak he tied last year by gutting out a pair of 76s in brutally cold weather to play his 23rd consecutive weekend at his favorite tournament. Player, dressed in white, congratulated Couples on his streak and then announced that despite hitting woods for his approach shots into all the par-4s, he would return for his record 52nd Masters in 2009.
"If I didn't break 80, I wouldn't be back," Player vowed. He parred the last five holes and shot 78.
-- Tim Rosaforte