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Couples in the mix once again
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When you come to Augusta National for the week of The Masters, there are virtual certainties. You’ll see Hogan’s Bridge. You’ll see a plethora of Polo shirts. And you’ll see Fred Couples on the leaderboard.
    A tradition in golf’s place most bound by traditions, the 53-year-old Couples added to his legacy Thursday after posting an opening round 4-under par 68, placing him in a tie for fourth and two shots off of the lead heading into Friday’s second round.
    “It was a good day,” the ’92 Masters Champion said after his round Thursday. “I made a few key putts, and that’s what you have to do here. I’m in great shape.”
    Of course, this is nothing new for Couples, affectionately known as “Freddie” to the local galleries. Freddie has finished in the Top 15 each of the last three years at Augusta National, and he has held the outright Masters lead after a round in two of the three years.
    “I get fired up (for Masters Week), but I have to drive it really well,” Couples said. “I used my length (Thursday). If I can come out and pound my driver, it will make (Friday) seem easier too.”
    Freddie stretches. He limps. His dark green pants clash with his striped light green shirt, and his long white socks show above his ankles as he begrudgingly bends down to read a putt. At times, he looks even older than his age suggests. Still, Freddie treks on.
    “Honestly, I’m not surprised. I’m going to come out (Friday) and do everything I can to keep this thing going, because I know I can play this course,” Couples said.
    To the Augusta galleries, he’s second to none. Freddie is the people’s champion, more so than Bubba, Tiger or even Phil. The affection boils over as he lumbers down each green fairway, nodding and smiling throughout his journey.
    “I look around. I enjoy it,” he said. “If you’re out there scrambling and hitting it all over, it gets a little frustrating because they’re trying to get you pumped up, and you can’t really hit a shot. When you’re playing well, it’s easier to see them.”
    So how long can Freddie drink from the fountain of Rae’s Creek and keep contending at The Masters? He’ll happily tell you.
    “I’m going to play this course until I really don’t think I can win,” Freddie says. “So, how long? Another 25 years of this?”
    We laugh. He might be serious.
    Divots from the course:
    — Tianlang Guan, who shot 73 as a 14-year-old Thursday, used a local caddie to help him around the course, and he has a three shot lead in the race for low amateur heading into Friday. His parents were also the only player’s parents to be interviewed after the round.
    — Dustin Johnson, on wearing the same shirt as Sergio Garcia Thursday: “We are not wearing the same outfit because we want to. This is Adidas.”
    — Tiger’s girlfriend Lindsey Vonn and Nike CEO Phil Knight both followed Woods around the course Thursday. He shot a 70 and is tied for 13th.

    Follow Vince’s coverage from Augusta all week at