Fred Couples, the 54-year-old who won the 1992 Masters, birdied the first two holes in Sunday’s final round to climb to 3-under par — and within two shots of the lead — before the final group had teed off.

Couples hung around with seven straight pars, but when he stumbled, he did so badly — with a pair of double bogeys on the back nine. That ceded the old-guy stage to Bernhard Langer, the 56-year-old German who won the second of his two Masters titles in 1993. Langer closed with three birdies on the final five holes to shoot 69 on Sunday, leaving him even par for the tournament and tied for eighth.

“There’s a lot of good over-50 players,” Langer said. “We can compete at the highest level and even on a very, very long golf course like this one.”

Langer had missed six straight cuts at the Masters before tying for 25th last year. He opened his final round with a birdie, then hit a 3-wood to four feet to set up an eagle at No. 2. Though he stumbled with a double bogey at 14, his birdies at 15, 16 and 18 completed his first Masters round in the 60s since 2004.

“A lot of guys used to say, ‘I don’t want to be on the Senior Tour, so I’ll just quit when I’m 40 or 45 or something like that,’ ” Langer said. “And it’s all changed now.”

McIlroy has best finish

Rory McIlroy did it in an odd way — falling behind, then steadying himself — but he notched his best Masters finish in six attempts, using a final-round 69 to climb into a tie for eighth. And he has a solution that might get him into contention a year from now.

“I’m even par for the tournament and even par for the par 5s,” McIlroy said. “So you’re looking to play the par 4s somewhere around 10- to 12-under par, and obviously if I had done that it would have been a different story.”

McIlroy’s previous best Masters finish was in 2011, when he led by four after 54 holes but shot a final-round 80 to tie for 15th. . . .

So much was made about the removal of the famed Eisenhower Tree, which had protected the left side of the 17th fairway but was removed in February after suffering damage in an ice storm. But the more open tee shot had no discernible impact on scoring. The par-4 17th played to an average of 4.24 strokes in this year’s tournament, just a hair harder than last year, when the field averaged 4.22 strokes. . . .

Defending champion Adam Scott holed a long birdie putt at 18 to complete an even-par round of 72 and finish the Masters 1 over, tied for 14th.

“It’s been a week I’ll never forget,” Scott said.