Fred Couples, trying to become the oldest champion in major golf history at age 52, fired a five-under par 67 on Friday to share the lead after the second round of the 76th Masters.
But World No. 2 Rory McIlroy and two stars without a major title, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, were among those only one stroke off the pace as 18 players stood within three shots of the leaders at Augusta National Golf Club.
Couples, who won his only major title 20 years ago at the Masters, stood atop the leaderboard alongside fellow American Jason Dufner, last year's PGA Championship runner-up, at five-under par 139 for 36 holes.
“It was a very, very magical day,” Couples said. “I'm going to be right there with everybody on the weekend.”
Reigning U.S Open champion McIlroy of Northern Ireland, World No. 3 Westwood of England, 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Spain's Garcia and American Bubba Watson shared third on 140.
“I can't pay much attention to them. I've got to worry about my own game,” Couples said. “If I come out here and play my game the best I can, I'll have a shot.”
The oldest champion in major golf history was Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship. The oldest winner in Masters history was Jack Nicklaus, who won his 18th and final major crown at age 46 at the 1986 Masters.
Couples, who won two weeks ago on the 50-and-over Champions Tour, is the oldest player to lead the Masters after 36 holes, three years older than Lee Trevino when he set the old mark in 1989.
“It's a little bizarre,” Couples said of his name atop the leaderboard. Couples, playing in his 28th Masters tournament, led after the first round in 2010 and settled for sixth.
Couples made bogeys at the first and third, birdied the par-3 fourth only to bogey the par-3 sixth, closed the front nine with three birdies in a row and closed the day with birdies at the par-5 15th, par-3 16th and par-4 18th.
“I feel like I'm very competitive,” Couples said.
“This is my favourite place in the world to play.
“I know every inch of the course. If you have that, you're going to save shots.”
Frustrated Tiger Woods, the 14-time major winner whose victory two weeks ago snapped a 28-month win drought, made five bogeys, three of them on Augusta's four par-3s, and pars on all four par-5s in firing a 75 to share 40th on 147.
Showing no sign of his peak form, Woods was eight adrift in a share of 40th after matching his third-worst round in 68 Masters rounds.
England's World No. 1 Luke Donald fired a 73 to stand on 148, one under the cut line that claimed Japan's Ryo Ishikawa. A total of 63 players made the cut, one off the record from 1966 and the most since 63 in 1992 when Couples won.
Dufner, who stumbled in the final holes at the PGA and lost a playoff, birdied three of four holes starting at the par-5 13th before a closing bogey.
Important scores: Second round: 139 Jason Dufner (69-70), Fred Couples (72-67), 140 Louis Oosthuizen (68-72), Lee Westwood (67-73), Sergio Garcia (72-68), Rory McIlroy (71-69), Bubba Watson (69-71), 141 Paul Lawrie (69-72), Matt Kuchar (71-70), Miguel Angel Jimenez (69-72), 142 Ben Crane (69-73), Charles Howell (72-70), Vijay Singh (70-72), Phil Mickelson (74-68), Peter Hanson (68-74), Aaron Baddeley (71-71), Henrik Stenson (71-71), Nick Watney (71-71), 143 Sean O'Hair (73-70), Jonathan Byrd (72-71), Jim Furyk (70-73), Yang Yong-Eun (73-70), Gary Woodland (73-70).