AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The 62nd Masters took on the feeling of a high school reunion yesterday. There was the injury-hampered middle-aged guy talking about what happened here six years ago. There was the young guy talking about what happened last year -- and what might happen today.
And there was the middle-aged guy talking about a conversation he had with his caddie about what the old guy had done by shooting even-par 72 in the opening round. "He said to me, 'Just hang in there, but you've got to start playing a little better if you want to beat this guy,' " Fred Couples said.
Couples eventually passed 1967 champ Gay Brewer, and everyone else on a day when 40-mph gusts created more havoc than any player in the field. With the help of a shot eerily reminiscent of his victory here in 1992, Couples took the first-round lead with a 3-under-par 69.
He found himself at the top of a leader board that included a number of other former champions.
Jose Maria Olazabal, who won here in 1994, was tied at 2-under 70 with Scott Hoch, Paul Azinger and Paul Stankowski. Five players, including defending champion Tiger Woods and '79 champion Fuzzy Zoeller, as well as Colin Montgomerie, were at 1-under.
As for Brewer's performance, Couples seemed in awe.
"You know, he's a friend from a long time ago and I think his game is incredible," Couples said. "It was a much better score than my 69. It was incredible. That was the story of the day."
Today's story should focus on Woods, Zoeller and Montgomerie. Considering the blustery conditions that are expected to continue into the weekend, maybe it was the winds of fate that likely blew the three players together for the second round.
It will bring together the protagonists from last year's third round, when Woods took control of the tournament and forced Montgomerie into conceding after being outscored by eight shots. It also will bring together Woods and Zoeller for the first time on a course since Zoeller's inappropriate and racially tinged remarks touched off a controversy.
It was a made-for-television threesome, but Woods didn't seem as excited as the media was last night and the fans will be this afternoon. Asked about the possibility of playing with Zoeller, Woods feigned surprise that such a big deal was being made.
"Just another pairing," he said without any hint of emotion.
The excitement over the pairing of Woods and Zoeller overshadowed what was a magnificent performance by Couples, which included five birdies (and two bogeys) on the front nine along with a shot that brought back memories of the final round in 1992.
It happened again on the 155-yard par-3 12th hole, when Couples put his tee shot tantalizingly close to Rae's Creek. Six years ago, the ball hit the shaved bank a couple feet above the water and stuck, with Couples getting up and down for par. This time it stuck six inches from the water.
"It didn't splash and Greg [Norman's] caddie said it was in the trap," said Couples, who again made par, this time having to take a shoe off to hit his next shot. "I knew it wasn't in the trap, so I didn't want to say anything. I wasn't going to say, 'Oh yeah, it's on the bank again. That same shot.' "
It was the same score Couples shot in 1992. While he has been in contention only once since -- being near the lead on Sunday three years ago before a final-round 75 led to a tie for 10th -- his career has been hampered by injury and his personal life wracked by tragedy.
"The last six years have blown by," said Couples, 38, who lost both his parents to cancer. "I don't want to wait and be near the lead four years from now and say this may be my last shot. But in reality, I should play well here. It's my favorite course and I have a ton of confidence."
What gave Woods confidence going onto the course yesterday was not only what he did last year, when he won by 12 shots with a tournament record 18-under, but what Brewer did a few hours earlier. Brewer, 66, beat all but nine of the 77 players in the field.
"I found out on the computer in the locker room and you look at it and think how inspirational that is," said Woods, who was born eight years after Brewer's victory here. "It gives you a little more purpose. If he can do it, I should do it and the rest of the field should do it. because to be 66 and shoot par in these conditions is just amazing."
Woods had a less eventful but no less adventurous round than he did in opening the Masters with a 70 last year. Instead of playing the front nine in 40, he shot 34. Instead of a 30 on the back, he shot 37.
"I think this year's round was better mentally," he said. "Last year's round was probably better physically because we had easier conditions. Today I hit the ball pretty good, but it's easier to do when you have easier conditions. There's no way you could have done that today. When I walked off 18, I was worn out."