AUGUSTA (AFP) - Fred Couples gave himself a chance to become the oldest champion in Major golf history at age 54 with back-to-back 71s at the Masters but now his true test begins.
Couples, the 1992 Masters winner, shared seventh on two-under par 142 after 36 holes at Augusta National, five strokes off the pace of 2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson entering the weekend.
"Can I win? Yeah. I really think I can win. I've got to play really good golf," he said. "Would I want to put on another jacket here? Yeah.
"But I've got 36 holes. I need to play better than I did the last two days. And I felt like I played really well. I've got my work cut out for me.
"I'm very excited because I hit the ball well. I have to keep plugging along and not worry about anybody but myself."
Couples led a record six 50-and-over players into the weekend. The old mark for Champions Tour-aged players to make the cut was four, most recently done last year.
Fiji's 51-year-old Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters champion, and 56-year-old German Bernhard Langer, the Masters winner in 1985 and 1993, will be playing partners in the middle of the pack on Saturday.
Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, 50, and 56-year-old Scotsman Sandy Lyle, the 1988 Masters champion, tee off together early, Lyle on 148, one behind Jimenez.
And 55-year-old American Larry Mize, who chipped in from 140 feet on the second play-off hole to beat Greg Norman for the 1987 green jacket, is on 146.
But the poster senior for the oldies but goodies is Couples, who got lucky when his ball hung on a bank at the par-three 12th and he salvaged a bogey without the ball rolling into Rae's Creek.
"I got very, very lucky. The wind turned and luckily I was aiming far enough left that it didn't catch the big bank and the slope. Very lucky," he said.
Jack Nicklaus is the oldest Masters champion at age 46 from his 1986 victory and Julius Boros is the oldest major winner, winning the 1968 PGA Championship at age 48.
Couples has squandered chances before with poor Saturday efforts, averaging 76 the past two years.
"My approach will be to average anything lower than that to bring my average down," he said. "My goal tomorrow is not to lose ground. Maybe it's to pick up some. But I have to play really well."
"I can't panic. I have to expect a bad shot here and there but when I hit the good shots I need to make putts. I have to putt well.
"Can I win it? Yeah. That's why I'm here. But I have to play well tomorrow. I can't compete with these guys over a year, but on one week I can compete and I have to do it tomorrow."
Lightning-fast greens will test Couples in his 30th Masters appearance. "It's hard to make little tricky putts and hit the iron shots close," he said.
"The greens are like concrete. So I'm going to have a lot of four, five, six footers for par. I've done well so far but I can't be making a lot of bogeys."