One of the wildest non-Sundays ever at The Masters saw the following:
- A 14-year-old being assessed a slow play penalty (read about it here) but still making the cut to secure Low Amateur honors;
- 3 different players coming to the 15th hole with at least a share of the lead and hitting balls in the water;
- a 53-year old shooting 139 for the third consecutive year to play in the final group Saturday for the second consecutive year;
- 4 Australians in the top 6 at one point (remember that no Aussie has ever won The Masters).
So really, the definition of what was in the air depends on who you ask.
Tianlang Guan has every right to think there was something afoot, given the preposterous slow play penalty he received. Ok, maybe not preposterous, he was warned 3 times, but still, ugh!
If you were to talk to the likes of Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson and others who were near the top of the leaderboard after round 1, they would surely say black magic was in the air. Actually, it was just a lot of moisture. The early wave played in overcast, humid conditions and a short, not-too-heavy rain shower.
The lowest round from the morning was a 69 by 2009 champion Angel Cabrera. The Argentinean was two-over on his round through 12. He proceeded to birdie 13, 14, 15, 16 and 18 to post 4-under, tied for fourth. So Cabrera certainly played like he had MASTERED (see what I did there?) some bit of wizardry on the final 6 holes. With no wins and a world ranking of 269th, Cabrera is doing what he does best: show up in Majors, that’s how he won his first two.
Aside from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the player most deserving of the title “Magic Man” at Augusta is 53-year-old Fred Couples. The newly dubbed “King of Cool” (Golf Digest May issue) backed up his opening round 68 with a solid 1-under 71 in the tough early conditions. Couples will play in Saturday’s final group for the second straight year. Each of the last three years has seen Couples tie Raymond Floyd’s mark for low 36-hole score by a 50-something, 5-under 139. My dad and his contemporaries will be rooting hard for Boom-Boom to win one for the Gipper Geezers.
Sergio Garcia has made it clear in the past that he believes there are supernatural forces at work on the golf course. And that these forces are perpetually against him. His 76 did nothing to convince him otherwise. A pair of 38s on his two nines leaves the 18-hole leader at 2-under through 36.
There was certainly some voodoo afflicting players Friday as well. Most affected was surely Dustin Johnson. After an opening round 67 and even par first nine, Johnson had it to 7-under after a birdie on the 13th. Then someone, somewhere, probably standing in a bunker on the 18th hole of Whistling Straits (too soon?), pulled out their Dustin Johnson voodoo doll. Johnson bogeyed the 14th to fall to 6-under. On the par-5 15th, Johnson washed his third shot (a foreboding omen for players later in the round). From the drop zone DJ wedge to about 10 feet and lipped out his bogey putt, taking 7. Another double bogey on 18 added up to a 76, leaving Johnson 1-under for the tournament.
Johnson was not the only player to have his round derailed and lead snatched at the 15th.
First, Jim Furyk arrived tied for the lead at 5-under. Furyk layed up to about 70 yards and promptly layed up again, into the pond. His “lag-wedge” as Shane Bacon from Yahoo Sports dubbed it led to a double bogey. Furyk did rebound to birdie the 18th and finish at 4-under, tied for fourth.
Without question, the most bizarre situation of the day happened when Tiger Woods came to the 15th (And trust me, the story is only getting more bizarre, check here for details). Woods was tied for the lead standing on the 15th tee. He had fired a 3-under 33 on the first nine and made five consecutive pars on his second nine.
Woods pushed his drive into the right trees and was forced to lay up to about 75 yards. He then hit what looked and sounded like an absolutely perfect wedge shot. And it was perfect, too perfect. The ball hit the flagstick and caromed back into the pond. The stone-faced look of disbelief was frightening, actually. After the round Woods commented that he was “pretty pissed” about that shot.
Tiger then proved why he is Tiger Woods. He dropped from *nearly* the same spot and nipped another wedge that stopped dead 5 feet left of the hole. Unlike Johnson and Furyk before him, Tiger dropped his bogey putt to lose only one shot. He then gave another away on 18. Tiger three-putted from about 40 feet after an errant approach flew to the back of the green. A 1-under 71 puts Tiger 3-under for the tournament and 3 behind leader Jason Day.
Day and fellow Australians Mark Leishman, Adam Scott and John Senden had plenty of magic of their own. Senden faded late to 1-under after getting to 4-under and Scott carded an even-par 72 to stay at 3-under. Leishman fired a 1-over 73, still good enough to put him in the penultimate group Saturday at 5-under.
Jason Day, playing in the final group of the day turned in the low round of the day, a 68 to finish at 6-under. Day was stellar on the second nine, making birdies at the 13th and 16th. His best hole on the inward nine was the par-3 12th. Day had just made birdie on the tough 11th and promptly dunked his tee shot into Rae’s Creek. After dropping Day played a sensational pitch that slammed the brakes 3 feet from the hole, allowing him to save bogey in a spot where many players had made double bogey earlier.
The secondary drama with Day concerned the cut line. As he climbed the leaderboard it became clear that his play would affect the fortunes of Tianlang Guan. The cut at The Masters is the low 50 and ties and anyone within 10 shots of the lead. As Day finished at 6-under, all the players at 4-over were in for the weekend, including Guan and defending champ Bubba Watson.
With two Australians in the final two groups and all four Aussies that made the cut within five shots, the hopes of a nation rest on Day and his countrymen. As Luke Elvy, Australian broadcaster put it, The Masters is Australia’s sporting Everest. With close calls by Day, Scott and Geoff Ogilvy in 2011 and seemingly innumerable heartbreaks from Greg Norman, the Aussies are desperate for their first green jacket.
The other questions for Saturday are:
- How will Fred Couples hold up as the pressure to become the oldest major champion builds?
- Can Tiger Woods rebound from his rocky finish, looking as though he would grab the lead and falling three behind?
- Which of the lurking big names (Snedeker, Rose, Dufner, Westwood, Choi) will make a move on Moving Day toward their first major?
- Can anyone from Friday’s morning wave rebound to get back into contention for Sunday?