Owing to one and a half inches of heavy rain at 5 pm on the Wednesday, the course was somewhat wet and, therefore, playing long. Anticipating this, the Tournament Committed positioned the pins with Day 4 severity. Some players were troubled by “mud balls”, which is a chunk of mud adhering to the golf ball on landing on soggy fairways. Most courses have "Lift, Clean and Replace" rules but not Augusta National, not The Masters. Players have no idea how the ball will fly (imagine driving your car super fast with a flat front wheel) although some could write a thesis on the subject. Even the top pros do not practice much with mud balls.
Early morning eager beavers trying to catch the holy trinity (Palmer/ Nicklaus/ Player) of golf doing the honorary starting did not slither and slide on the steep slopes owing to the generous amounts of gravel (what colour? Green, of course!) that was shovelled onto all approaches and pathways. The course was liberally sprinkled with signs cautioning that the area was "slippery when wet". The day was crisp and clear and got off to a great start with the wildly cheering appreciative patrons celebrating the start of this 76th edition of The Masters. Ranked by age, Palmer at 82, hit his drive straight down the fairway, Player at 76, as expected, rocketed his drive far into the distance right of centre and Nicklaus at 72 comprehensively covered the left centre. Club house balconies were full to overloaded, patrons pressed against the ropes to catch a better glimpse of the living big three of golf.
But trouble was already brewing on the very first hole which proved to be the toughest in recent tournament history. Bradley, Cabrera, McIlroy, all recent winners of majors, doubled before stabilizing later in the day. However, the first was followed by the par 5 second hole, which proved to be the easiest of the day. Harrington was the first in red figures with a competent eagle on the 2nd. Thereafter the leader board was constantly changing, much like a game of snakes and ladders. Henrik Stenson, of "drive off the wing of an Etihad Airlines plane" together with this scribe, shot off to be 5 under in the front nine with two eagles in the bag and easier par 5 holes to come in the second half. However, the pressure of such an early lead and possibly visions of a matching 31 on the second half, proved to be too much and after a heartbreaking quadruple bogey on the 18th, he subsided to just be in the red numbers, four shots off the lead.
|MASTERS ROUND 2 LEADERBOARD
|139 (5-under) - Jason Dufner (USA) 69-70, Fred Couples (USA) 72-67
|140 Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 68-72, Lee Westwood (ENG) 67-73, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 72-68, Rory McIlroy (NIR)
|71-69, Bubba Watson (USA) 69-71
|141- Paul Lawrie (SCO) 69-72, Matt Kuchar (USA) 71-70, Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP) 69-72
|70 Zach Johnson (USA), Vijay Singh (FIJ), Jim Furyk (USA), Scott Stallings (USA);
|142Ben Crane (USA) 69-73, Charles Howell (USA) 72-70, Vijay Singh (FIJ) 70-72, Phil Mickelson (USA) 74-68, Peter Hanson (SWE) 68-74, Aaron Baddeley (AUS) 71-71, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 71-71, Nick Watney (USA) 71-71.
|147-Tiger Woods (USA) 72-75; 148-Luke Donald (ENG) 75-73
This year, spring came early and the unseasonable warmth caused most of the flowers to bloom early and therefore wilt early. Thus, the only colour one sees is from some late bloomers and all patrons are keenly disappointed. The other colour one will surely see is the red of competition blood on the score boards and of Tiger’s shirt on day four as compensation.
Tiger, during practice, was seen to repeatedly stretch his neck and attempt to loosen up his right arm even as he approached the first tee. Something was clearly amiss. Trying to bomb his drive on the first so as to get an easy approach for a possible birdie, he hit a snap hook into the pines and was lucky to have a narrow window through the trees to get near enough to the green for a difficult up and down. He snap hooked again on hole two, trying to position himself for an easy mid iron to the green for a possible eagle. He had to chip out from a dense copse of pines and was lucky to salvage a par where almost everyone else was making birdie.
Obviously, the man is brilliant. He had trouble with his driver throughout, hitting only five fairways, and taking advantage of only one of the par fives. Aside from that, he only had one horrendous approach shot, from the middle of the fairway with a short iron on Pampas, the seventh, and his powers of recovery from trouble were, therefore, on full display. Despite his troubles, and finishing bogey, bogey for a par round 72, he is upbeat and was frank enough to smilingly admit, in the post round interview, that he hit some of the worst shots of his life.
Meanwhile, Jimenez, at almost 50, a complete antithesis from Tiger, plugged away to play some great shots to record a 69. With a smoking Cigar always at hand, he epitomizes Mark Twain's remark that “A Woman is just a Woman, but a cigar is a smoke!”. Tiger may disagree. The star of the day was Lee Westwood who could easily have gone three or four shots lower the way he was playing. Missing only one fairway in his otherwise perfect driving, his approaches were pin high and accurate and his putting was pretty good. He remained remarkably cool, poised and focused and if he repeats he will not be caught.
And finally on to the amateurs, who are making a great mark with Patrick Cantlay, the world's leading amateur, and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, the Asian amateur champion, in red figures, having played and handled themselves much better than most of the experienced professionals.
Friday offered overcast and potentially rainy weather which is likely to ease up over the weekend. Slowly but surely a great dramatic finish is being shaped by the unseen and all knowing hand!
The author is chairman, Honda Siel Cars India Ltd; and co-chairman, Usha International Ltd