Dufner and Couples share lead at halfway stage

Fred Couples could win a second Masters 20 years after his first?

Jason Dufner and Fred Couples share the halfway lead at the Masters after Lee Westwood’s double bogey at the last dropped him back to a shot off the pace.

Dufner shot a a two-under 70 in the second round at Augusta National as he bids to bounce back from his back-nine meltdown at the last major championship.

The 35-year-old Dufner is hoping to claim his first major success after throwing away a five-shot lead over the closing stretch of the USPGA Championship last August, when he eventually lost out in a play-off to Keegan Bradley.

Dufner, who carded a 69 on Thursday, mixed three birdies with a bogey and a double bogey at the fourth on the front nine.

He then made his move with three birdies in four holes from the 13th before dropping back to five-under for the tournament after bogeying the 18th.

“I was pretty solid today,” he said. “There were a couple of bumps out there that I wish I could have back but the golf course is pretty tough.

“The wind’s picked up a little bit which makes it a little more difficult and harder to control some of your iron shots but all in all it was a pretty solid day. But it was tough to end with a bogey – nobody likes to do that.

“I got a lot of practice in last week, I got familiar with the golf course and so I feel pretty comfortable this week.”

When asked about the USPGA, he added: “I kind of know what’s going to be going on at the weekend if I am in that position again. All that experience I had from last August should help out this April.”

Couples has won his major – right here 20 years ago – and put himself in contention for a second at the age of 52.

He admitted it is “a little bizarre” to see his name on top of the Masters leaderboard after his second-round five-under-par 67.

The 52-year-old made seven birdies and two bogeys at Augusta National on Friday and in a rare show of emotion gave a double fist pump as he sunk a crucial par putt on the 18th to share the lead with fellow American Dufner.

“Coming in, people were asking how are you going to do, and I said I really want to be competitive,” Couples said. “This is really my favorite place in the world to play.”

Couples, who intends to start playing full-time on the Champions Tour next year, has had back problems for some time, but was ready to go on Friday after a solid warm-up session.

“On the range today, I felt like my body was tightening a little bit because it was cold and we were in Houston last week and it was so warm, and I just kind of nonchalantly told my teacher, ‘I just want to hit it solid today.’ And I did that,” he said.

After playing the first six holes in even-par with two birdies and two bogeys, he made three birdies in a row from the seventh to really get his round going. Two more birdies at 15 and 16 got him to five under.

“I hit the ball well,” Couples said. “You can get away with hitting it right or left here but when you mishit the ball you pay the price.

“I feel like I should have won here more than once – I like playing the course, I feel comfortable on the course. I feel I know every inch of the course and when you feel like that you know you’re going to pick up shots. Today was a magical day.”

The leading pair are a shot clear of five players at four under, including Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.

Westwood led after his opening 67 and got to six under after 15 holes but paid a high price for a mediocre chip at 18 and then a three-putt from 14 feet.

McIlroy had a 69 to get into contention to make amends for last year’s final-day disappointment, while a 68 has given Garcia yet another chance to break his major duck.

Phil Mickelson has won four – three of them around Augusta – and the left-hander matched Garcia’s 68 to get to two under.

After holing long putts for par and then birdie at 17 and 18 – as well as recovering from four over through 12 on Thursday – ‘Lefty’ will feel he has the momentum to mount a charge over the weekend.

Not so Tiger Woods. The four-time champion got to two under with two birdies in his first three holes, but lost his game completely on the back nine and scrambled in for a 75 to finish on three over, eight shots off the pace.