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SPORTS EXTRA / FOCUS ON GOLF: The Masters | NOTES

A Year Later, Couples Says Those Were Merely the Breaks

April 08, 1999|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fred Couples was in range of winning his second Masters a year ago and it took three birdies in the last four holes by Mark O'Meara to beat him.

And as well as David Duval has been playing, Duval is the guy who should win this year, right?

"Should he win?" Couples said. "No, I should win."

He might have won last year if he hadn't bogeyed No. 13 on Sunday when his drive landed on a cart path, and then plunked his approach into the pond in front of the green.

Couples said he isn't bothered by those two shots.

"Has it haunted me?" he said. "No. There's really nothing I've ever done that I can't get over. You know, golf's a game of basically mistakes and failures. And when you win a tournament, you get good breaks and you hit the ball better than most everyone. But your bad shots are better too."

Couples said he expects the scores to go up this year because of the changes made to Augusta National. He said he also expects there to be only five or six players who have a shot at winning.

"I could be wrong, but this course is very, very tough. If it rains, it'll make it easier for us."

Couples said Duval, Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els are the players most likely to separate themselves from the field--that is if he doesn't do it first.

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Woods isn't sorry about being mentioned after Duval these days . . . at least he's saying that for the record. Others, such as Mark O'Meara and Couples, figure it might be eating at Woods a little bit.

Woods said it should be obvious that the Masters is not a Woods-Duval showdown.

"Well, unless we're tied for the lead with nine holes to go," Woods said. "But he and I both know as well as everyone in this tournament knows that we have to do our own part. We have to play our own game to get ourselves in contention to win.

"You know, David's not going to play as Tiger versus me and I'm not playing against David. I've got to play against the golf course and everybody in the field. I've got to get myself in contention to win on the back nine on Sunday, just like '97."

Of course, Woods had a nine-shot lead with nine holes to go in 1997, so he was a little more than merely in contention.

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For the first time since 1962, the field will play in threesomes instead of twosomes. Except for weather reasons, that is. There were 110 players in the field in 1962. The field this year is 96--the biggest since 1964--and the fourth-largest field in Masters history.

Also, the groupings will remain the same for the first two days instead of being redrawn according to scores after the first round.

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Honorary starters once again are 97-year-old Gene Sarazen, 87-year-old Byron Nelson and 86-year-old Sam Snead.

Sarazen played in 34 Masters and won it in 1935, the year he made his famous double-eagle on No. 15. Nelson won the Masters in 1937 and 1942 and Snead won it in 1949, 1952 and 1954.

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Defending champion O'Meara's group includes U.S. Amateur champion Hank Kuehne and Lee Westwood of England. Woods is playing with British Amateur champion Sergio Garcia of Spain and Tim Herron while Duval is grouped with Nick Price and Bob Tway.

*

Garcia, 19, has played three European PGA Tour events this year and missed the cut in two of them.

At 12, he was the club champion at his hometown club, the Mediterraneao Club de Golf in Borriol, Spain, where his father was the pro. He was a scratch player at 13 and played his first event on the European tour at 15 when he finished at four over.

In 21 amateur tournaments in 1997 and 1998, Garcia won 17. He thinks an amateur can win the Masters, even though it has never been done.

"It's very difficult but I think it's possible," he said. "You just have to have the week of your life, playing great, putting great and do everything right. I think most of the amateurs that are playing in this Masters can have one of those weeks. And why not?"

There are six amateurs in the field: Garcia, Kuehne, Trevor Immelman of South Africa, Matt Kuchar, Tom McKnight and John Miller.

*

For the record, here is the official statement of the length of grass at Augusta National. Grass height is always a big issue around this place:

"Our fairways are now being mowed at 3/8 of an inch, the tees at 1/4 inch, the greens at 1/8 inch, and these levels are to be maintained until the conclusion of the tournament. The second cut has increased from approximately 5/8 of an inch to 1 3/8 inches. All mowing schedules are subject to weather conditions."

*

Paul Runyan called it a "horrendous" round, though others might disagree. After all, he' 90 years old.

Runyan, who finished third in the very first Masters in 1934, stole the show Wednesday in the par-three tournament at Augusta National. The man who was nicknamed "Little Poison" shot a nine-over 36 on the nine-hole layout that borders the regular course.

"My score was terrible," said Runyan, a two-time Masters winner. "I kept putting it into the crowd on the left."

Joe Durant won the event with a five-under 22 and Matt Kuchar and Fuzzy Zoeller had holes-in-one. The winner of the warm-up tournament, which started in 1960, has never gone on to win the Masters the same week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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