AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Fred Couples has been a darling of Augusta National crowds for decades, rewarding his fans with five top-five finishes, 11 top 10s and a victory in 1992.
The easy-swinging, big-hitting Couples has continued to thrive at Augusta into his 50s, tying for 12th last year, for 15th the year before and finishing sixth in 2010.
Couples, 53, was in the mix on the leaderboard again on Saturday before a bumbling finish sent him crashing from five under par to level par for the tournament largely due to a triple-bogey at the 17th he called "a comedy of bad shots".
Standing one off the lead for a good part of the third round, Couples bogeyed 14 and 15 before unraveling at the 17th.
He buried his tee shot deep into the trees on the left and his attempt to escape met with more branches that dropped him back into the woods.
Couples punched out, sent his chip shot over the green, putted through the fringe to within four feet and then two-putted for his seven.
Couples, who led after the first round in 2010 with a 66 and who held the lead halfway through the tournament last year, said he felt worse for his playing partner Jason Day, the Australian who led for most of the third round before a bogey-bogey finish.
"I feel bad for Jason because he waited for me forever on the 17th and then I finally thought to myself, I'm not going to make him wait, and I said, 'why don't you go'.
"And then he hit and he three putted," he said about Day's bogey at 17 that took him out of the lead. "His three‑putt on 18 was all on his own, but 17 I felt like I was killing him there.
"It took me forever to figure out how to make a seven."
The only saving grace, as far as Couples fans were concerned, was that the likeable American will probably be back to entertain and enthrall them again in 2014.
Couples had vowed on Friday that he would retire and finish on a high note if he were to win the Masters again.
The poor finish left Couples at 216, seven strokes behind co-leaders Angel Cabrera of Argentina and American Brandt Snedeker.
And seemed to ensure at least another Masters campaign for Couples next year.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)