PGA Tour 2012: The Year of Fred Couples

Mike LynchContributor IIIDecember 27, 2011

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 11: Fred Couples of the USA hits his bunker shot on the 11th Hole during day two of the 2011 Emirates Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club on November 11, 2011 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The upcoming 2012 golf season offers great intrigue and the potential for historic events, and Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are largely the cause of this.

A legend is trying to recapture his lost form, while a potential superstar is budding. It seems inevitable that their paths will cross at a major championship.

In 1960, the US Open saw a clash of generations unequaled to this day. Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus battled over the final nine holes for the Open.

The past, present and future of golf meeting in an event, this almost transcends time. Palmer was victorious as Hogan and Nicklaus stumbled over the final holes.

Had Hogan been victorious, 1960 would have been remembered for his record setting fifth US Open, and being the oldest man to win a major at 48. Instead, the year is remembered for Arnold Palmer. Hogan played infrequently and obtained chronic injuries to his legs due to a car accident.

This is where Fred Couples enters the picture. Couples is nowhere close to Hogan in terms of golfing legacy, but there are similarities between the two at the later stages of their careers. Couples has a chronic back injury. His schedule is inconsistent. He would be the oldest man to win the Masters or any major tournament.

It would not have been outrageous to give Hogan a chance to win in 1960. In fact, it would not have been that shocking if he did win. He was still the best ball striker in the game, which gave him an advantage at penal US Open setups. It was just a matter of making putts and having his legs hold out.

Fred Couples has a real chance to win at Augusta this year. His back seems to have improved thanks to the treatment he received in Germany. His ball-striking resembles a PGA Tour player more so than a 52-year-old. His short putting woes have been helped by the belly putter. Finally, he loves the course and knows every bounce and break on the property.

He nearly won the Northern Trust Open at Riviera last season. He had the lead with 16 holes to play, but poor putting and a shot from deep rough that aggravated his back caused him to slip.

The Australian Open saw him outperform most of his President's Cup squad. He finished ahead of five members and trailed only three. He finished in sixth place at the 2010 Masters and 15th in 2011.

This is not a prediction of a Masters back nine duel involving McIlroy, Woods and Couples. Although that would be thrilling, odds of it falling into place are slim. Nor am I suggesting that such a duel would rival 1960, in terms of historic importance.

The year 2012 is a year where the present and future of golf are unclear. What will become of Tiger Woods? Is Rory McIlroy the real deal?

The year 1960 was similar in this unclear outlook, and the season ended with a much better picture. Palmer became the King, and Nicklaus was clearly the future of golf. Yet it nearly was the year of Ben Hogan.

Since we are so focused on getting a better picture of the state of golf in 2012, Fred Couples is being overlooked. He can very easily be the story of 2012 because of what a win by him would achieve. Oldest major winner, oldest Masters winner, oldest winner on tour since Sam Snead won at age 52.  

There would also be a special quality about winning after the milestone age of 50. He is still one of the bigger names to casual fans. Couples getting a win at age 52 at the Masters would dwarf any other accomplishment in 2012.