AUGUSTA - A few years back, the idea of a major champion being won by a player in his 50s would have been laughed at. That is no longer the case.
It did not come to pass at the 78th Masters this week at Augusta National, but it was not that far off.
A record six "golden oldies" made the cut and three of them -- 50-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez, 56-year-old Bernhard Langer and 54-year-old Freddie Couples -- were in contention until midway through the round.
Jimenez eventually finished fourth, Langer tied for eighth and Couples shared 20th.
As for their peers, 51-year-old Vijay Singh was tied for 37th, 56-year-old Sandy Lyle tied for 44th and 55-year-old Larry Mize was 51st and last.
Asked how it was that so many older players had made it through to Masters weekend and played so well during the week, Jimenez, best known for his portly belly and his love of cigars and red wine replied: "Well, the people, they take care of themselves. They are being more healthy.
"If you don't want to be here at 50, you shouldn't be here. I love the game, I love competing, and probably that is the reason."
Those sentiments were echoed by Langer, known throughout his career as being a fitness fiend who never smoked, never consumed alcohol and who "looked after himself."
"I think the guys stay in better shape and they know that there's a great Tour with the Champions (Over-50) Tour waiting for them," he said.
"In their late 40s they don't kind of quit and say I'm kind of done. They're actually maybe working harder at it knowing they're going to have five or 10 years, maybe more, on the Champions Tour, so they focus on that and they pace themselves."
Couples, who has been a regular contender in the Masters since turning 50, has another take on it, pointing out that former Masters winners like himself, Langer, Lyle, Mize and Singh are all invited back each year to Augusta National by dint of their wins.
"We play here so many times. I know Bernhard (Langer) just had a great week. I think he shot 69 today which was a great score.
"I think that he has probably played this 30 years also or more. So you get to know the course, you know the wind, you know how to play it.
"Is it surprising? I don't think he's going to tell you it's surprising, but when you look at a 55-year-old and he's going to finish in the top 10, that's something."
It's not all sweetness and light, however.
Scotsman Lyle, the winner in 1988, says Father Time is nagging away at him.
"For me it doesn't get any easier physically," he said.
"Around here (pointing to his head) I still feel about 56, but down there I'm about 80 at the moment.
"My legs are sort of hanging in there, that's when it gets to you is your physical, mental side that can fade away, if you're not careful. You got to have lots of liquids out there."
With the US Open in June generally considered to be too grueling a test for a 50-plus player to win, the next big opportunity for a veteran victory will come in July when the British Open returns to the links at Hoylake.
After all, it was only five years ago that Tom Watson came within a whisker of capturing the Auld Claret Jug at 59 years old when the tournament was held at Turnberry.
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