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Couples & Dufner Take Lead at Masters


Wily veteran Fred Couples and journeyman Jason Dufner are tied for the lead after 36 holes of the Masters. On the 20th anniversary of his Masters' victory, the 52-year-old Couples carded Friday's low round, a 5-under 67. Dufner, who's yet to win on the PGA Tour, had a 70.

The two players stand at 5-under 139 at Augusta National Golf Club, which continues to bedevil the world's best golfers in the first Grand Slam event of the year.

After an even-par 72 Thursday, Couples, a Seattle native who now plays regularly on the over-50 Champions Tour - where he won two weeks ago in the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic - posted seven birdies and a pair of bogeys Friday. Five of those birdies and both bogeys came on the front nine, when he went out in 3-under 33, with his remaining birdies coming on the par-5 15th and par-3 16th holes.

"Little bizarre," Couples described his second round. "I really want to be competitive. I play this course very well. Even on my misses I was close and got up and down. Every time I put myself in a difficult spot, I don't want to be there again.

"Can I win?" asked Couples, whose 67 was the lowest round ever shot by an over-50 player in the Masters. "Yeah, I believe I can, yes. Standing out there, I said, 'What the hell,' a lot. What do I have to lose here?

"I hit some very solid shots," he noted of his 67. "The idea today was to not try to do a lot of crazy things. I really know the course and I can get out there and figure out how to shoot a score."

Dufner was in the mix at the previous major, the 2011 PGA Championship in Atlanta, but lost a five-shot lead with four holes to go and succumbed to Keegan Bradley in a playoff. Ranked 31st in the latest World Golf Ranking, the 34-year-old is the only player in the top 50 without a victory on a recognized tour.

"I had some really nice rounds at the PGA," Dufner told reporters. "Didn't quite work out, but carried over into this year. It gave me confidence that I can compete and play at a high level out here and do really nice things.

"I know the situation, and I'm playing a major, I'm playing at Augusta in the Masters," added Dufner, who heard from fans yelling "War Eagle" in recognition of his college days at Auburn University in Alabama.

"As a player, I know everything that's going on. At times, I know that I am leading or behind or whatever it might be in that situation. I'm just trying to have a nice round of golf, play well, commit to my shots and let the rest take care of itself."

After opening with a 67, first-round leader Lee Westwood slipped to a 1-over 73 and is now tied for third at 140. After all pars on the front nine, the 38-year-old Englishman had two birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey on the 18th, which is proving to be the course's toughest hole this year.

"I gave myself a lot of birdie chances and hit a lot of good putts that didn't go in," said Westwood, who's played in 56 majors without a win. "It was a disappointing way to finish, but if you get out of position on this course it can punish you.

"All in all, I played solidly today and controlled what I could control. I'm in good position going into the weekend and I'm not going to be too far off the lead. That's a position you want to be."

Westwood is tied with South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen (72), Sergio Garcia (68), American Bubba Watson (71) and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, forged a round that was two strokes better than his opening 71. Interestingly, the 22-year-old said that the birdies on his final two holes Thursday were critical to his second-round 69. "The birdies on Thursday were key," he noted Friday afternoon. "That was nice the way I finished, to get in a good frame of mind for today."

Despite a bogey on the last hole, Garcia had a fine day in Georgia, firing six birdies and two bogeys. The 32-year-old Spaniard has never won a major, but has come close with 17 top-10 finishes, including two runner-ups.

He's looking forward to see how the weekend pans out. "I don't know if I'm ready to win," he told reporters. "I'll see. We'll see. I wish I could tell you I'm ready to win, but I really don't know. So I'm just going to give it my best try, and you know, hopefully that will be good."

Three players share eighth at 141, including Matt Kuchar (70), Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez (72) and Scotland's Paul Lawrie (72).

Eight are at 2-under 142, including former Masters' winners Vijay Singh (72) and Phil Mickelson, who put his opening 74 in the rearview mirror with a fine 4-under 68 Friday. Mickelson, who donned his newest green jacket - one of three - in 2010, said the difference between the two days was how he thought his way around the course.

"The biggest thing for me was strategically I didn't miss the ball in the wrong spot." he said. "If I got into some trouble or hit some poor shots, they are on the proper side where I could still get up-and-down and let my short game salvage strokes, which I did fairly well today."

The cut line was set at 5-over 149. Among those who earned a spot on the weekend is defending champion Charl Schwartzel, who's carded rounds of 72 and 75. The South African is tied for 40th with, among others, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell (72) and Tiger Woods.

Woods followed up a promising 72 with a 3-over 75 Friday. After birdies on two of his first three holes, Woods' round went downhill, with five bogeys the rest of the way. Woods was clearly frustrated on the back nine. As his ball was heading to the bunker on the par-3 16th, he dropped his club and kicked it.

But he somehow held on to earn the right to play the final 36 holes. "I just tried to get everything out of every shot and stay focused," Woods told a TV reporter. "I didn't quite have it today. Unfortunately, I just had to hang in there and be patient."

Among those heading home are former Masters' champions Mike Weir (72, 79), Jose Maria Olazabal (75, 76), Tom Watson (77, 74), Bernhard Langer (72, 80), Ian Woosnam (77, 77), Ben Crenshaw (76, 83), Craig Stadler (81, 82) and Sandy Lyle (86, 78).

Jason Day, who tied for second in 2011 with fellow Aussie Adam Scott, withdrew midway through the second round due to a strained ligament in his left ankle. After opening with a 3-over 75, Scott made the cut with a 70 Friday.

For all the scores, visit http://www.majorschampionships.com/masters/2012/scoring/index.cfm.