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Vintage Couples rolls back the years

Freddie Couples turned the clock back nearly 20 years with a vintage performance at Riviera Country Club yesterday -- but Luke Donald would have been happy to skip back just one day after a truly disastrous second round at the Northern Trust Open.

It's 19 years since Couples last romped to victory down 'Hogan's Alley' and the 66 posted by the 51-year-old to establish the early clubhouse lead on eight-under par yesterday was the stuff of nearby Hollywood.

The US Presidents Cup captain got his second round off to the perfect start when he holed-out from 30 yards for an eagle three at the first. By the finish, after he'd landed three birdies. Few would dare bet against Couples wrapping up his 16th PGA Tour title tomorrow evening and his first since the 2003 Houston Open.

For decades he's grappled with a chronic, creaking back but Couples is a Riviera specialist, having won here twice, in 1990 and 1992 and registering runner-up finishes in three of the next five years.

In stark contrast, Donald went from a sublime three-under par 68 on Thursday to a calamitous 79 yesterday and will miss the cut by a street on five-over par. Yet his fellow Englishmen, Paul Casey (67 yesterday) and Justin Rose (69) were well in contention on four-under, while Phil Mickelson could not be written-off, even if he followed up Thursday's slipshod 71 with a tepid one-under par 70.

Paul McGinley faces a frustrating three weeks kicking his heels in Europe's golfing limbo after missing the cut in the Avantha Masters. These are bleak times for the former Ryder Cup hero, who was seven strokes outside the projected cut mark at the DLF Golf and Country Club in New Delhi after adding a second-round three-over-par 75 to Thursday's 77.

As the focus turns to two World Golf Championships (the Accenture Match Play in Tucson next week and the Cadillac in Doral in a fortnight's time), there's no tournament action for the vast majority of 'ordinary' European Tour members until the Sicilian Open on March 17.

The last thing McGinley needs is to be idle as he tries to find form, with the last two seasons having been undermined by injury.

Garth Maybin carries Ireland's hopes into what promises to be a busy weekend as the tournament makes up time lost to heavy fog delay on Thursday -- half the field had yet to complete their second round when darkness fell yesterday.

A second-round 71 left Maybin five shots off Rafael Cabrera-Bello's clubhouse lead on eight-under after the Spaniard followed up his opening 67 with a 69. Yet two of the six players lying within one stroke of the lead, Asian aces Thongchai Jaidee and Jeev Milkha Singh, still had seven holes of their second rounds to complete this morning.

Northern Trust Open,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 6.0pm

Avantha Masters,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 6.30am

Irish Independent