AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Fred Couple's chronic back problems seem to disappear as soon as he arrives at Augusta National.
He feels like a kid again while strolling through the Georgia pines at the Masters.
"I feel like I'm very young when I get here," the 52-year-old Couples said. "A lot of tournaments you play and you drag a little bit. I think everyone gets excited to come here."
Couples, the 1992 Masters champ, shot a 5-under-par 67 Friday and is tied with 35-year-old Jason Dufner at 5-under 139 through 36 holes.
Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and first-round leader Lee Westwood are tied for third, one shot back, heading into today's third round. Tiger Woods shot a 3-over 75 and is tied for 40th at 3-over 147.
"There are going to be 20, 25 guys within five shots of the lead, so there's going to be a lot of guys going out there that will think they have a chance over the next two days," McIlroy said before it became official that 30 players are within five shots of first place.
A number of notable players, including Paul Casey, Darren Clark and K.J. Choi, missed the cut at 5 over, while a near-record 63 will be around for the weekend -- 64 made the cut in 1966.
Couples made the Masters cut for the 26th time in his career.
Nobody over the age of 50 has ever won a major championship. Armed with that knowledge, Couples plays with an inner peace and a care-free approach.
"I stand out there and say 'What the hell' a lot; 'What do I have to lose here? Go for the flag on this shot,'" Couples said. "But once you really get cruising around, then it becomes time to play a smart shot."
Couples made seven birdies and two bogeys Friday, including one of the latter on the first hole of the day. He hit a wedge shot to within four feet of the third hole and a rescue-club to within four feet on No. 4. He closed the front nine with three straight birdies to make the turn in 33. He added birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 to a bogey-free back nine.
The result was Couples' best round at Augusta since a 67 in the third round of the 1995 Masters, and it leaves him in contention much like he was two year ago.
"I wish I could have won it again," Couples said. "I wish I would have beaten Mark [O'Meara in '95] or Phil [Mickelson in '10] one of those two years. But to win it once is truly amazing."
McIlroy and the other eight players within two shots of the lead are hoping to win their first green jacket like Couples did 20 years ago.
"He's just cool," said McIlroy, who shot a 69 on Friday. "I hope I'm that cool when I'm 52. He's just a cool guy and good fun. He's laid-back and relaxed and just a really nice guy."
Dufner may be just as cool and he's every bit as calm as Couples on the course. Dufner never appears to be rattled -- not in the three-hole playoff he lost to Keegan Bradley at the 2010 PGA Championship and not in the fourth major tournament of his career. But it could be a mirage.
"There's a lot more going on our there than appears," said Dufner, who played at Auburn. "I feel like I have the same emotions and thought processes of a lot of guys, but I seem not to show it quite as well as other players. It's a test to yourself."
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson rallied from a 74 on Thursday with a 68 on Friday to pull within three shots of the lead.
Paul Lawrie, Matt Kuchar and Miguel Angel Jimenez are two shots behind Dufner and Couples and one ahead of Ben Crane, Charles Howell III, Peter Hanson and Vijay Singh as well as Mickelson, who began the second round nine shots off the lead. He picked up two birdies in his first three holes and shot 35 on the front. He shot 33 on the second nine.
"Tomorrow will be a critical day," Mickelson said. "There's a lot of time left and there's a lot of birdies out there, and I get to slide off before the leaders."
Couples and Dufner will be in the last group off at 2:45 p.m. That will allow Couples to sleep in like a teenager on any Saturday morning.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...