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Masters Confidential: Will Watson and Couples stay in contention?

Photo: Robert Beck/SI

Fred Couples has won three times on the Champions Tour this year, and he continued his good play on Thursday.

Every morning this week, writers and editors from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine will address one pressing question about the Masters in a daily version of PGA Tour Confidential, our weekly roundtable discussion.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Going into Friday's action, the first question has to be, can the old guys (Couples -6, Watson -5, Sandy Lyle -3) hang on, or are they simply an amusing and interesting first-day storyline? I mean, running with the big boys at rock hard Turnberry, as Watson did last July, is one thing, but beating the youngsters at Tiger-proofed Augusta National?

Bonus question: How long until Gary Player joins the ceremonial shooters?

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Possible, yes. Probable, no way. Four rounds at Augusta will wear out even the fittest of the fit. If a geezer wins the green jacket, he's not SI's Sportsman of the Year — he's Sportman of the Century.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I like Freddie's chances better than Watson's — he can overpower the par 5s, and he has more practice at winning lately. But it's hard to imagine either one can have four straight good putting days, which is mandatory for any would-be winner. Per Player, next year.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Fred is as long as Phil, he knows the course as well as Woods, and he's better than Kim and Westwood combined. Unlike Tiger, he has nothing to prove. Plus he's been making short putts all year long. Of course he can win.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Couples can win. Watson will not be able to handle 7 and 17 all four days. Lyle will finish top 20 again. He's long enough. Player next year, I spose.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I'll give Couples a shot, because he is playing and putting so well. Plus, as he said, he knows the course so well, knows where he can miss shots and not get penalized. Most important, he's the one player among the old guys who still thinks he can win.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Fred can win, and he knows it. He's hitting every shot on the button, and he's walking in putts. 50 is the new 40. It's a stretch for Watson, though, especially after tonight's rain. Gary, see you on the first tee next year, laddie.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Couples still has PGA Tour length, so he has the best chance of the golden oldies to hang in there. Watson's chances may have faded with the torrential downpour Thursday night. If that rain causes the course to play even longer, he'll be hard-pressed. Then again, Watson is amazing. And don't forget, the tees were up Thursday, the greens were soft (and should be again) and the pins were easy. That won't happen for all four days.

Gary Player joins the ceremonial guys next year. This year was for Jack to get the spotlight, after Arnold already had it. They'll be ready to add "the new guy" by 2011. Player can't wait to hit it by both of them.

Alan Bastable, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Let us not forget Bernhard Langer, who may be the most dangerous old dude of them all. Bernie won't win this week, but when the dust settles he'll have beat out Couples, Watson and, yes, even Sandy Lyle.

Player will join them in 2011 and become the first golfer to follow the ceremonial drive with 500 ceremonial push-ups.

Joe Posnanski, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Couples has the best chance of holding on and staying in contention. Watson has the best chance of winning if he actually manages to stay in contention until Sunday. Lyle has the best accent.

I don't think any of the old guys can beat Tiger this week. But then, I don't think any of the young guys can beat Tiger this week either. The guy shot 68 in his first round in a half year, without making putts. He might win this thing by five shots.

Gary Player should be ceremonial starter for all four Majors. On the same day.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Yes. No. No. Yes.

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