April 6, 2012
Augusta National gettin' nasty
By IAN HUTCHINSON
Lee Westwood seemingly had the ideal round going in the blustery, cool conditions that greeted him at the start of his second round at the Masters on Friday.
The man without a major reeled off 10 consecutive pars before hitting Amen Corner with a bogey countered by a birdie before his hijinx on 18 left him with a double bogey that he surely thought about overnight without the lead that appeared so certain all day.
The fact that Westwood held the lead for as long as he did with his steady fairways and greens style is testament to the bite that Augusta possesses, particularly in a swirling wind, but that doesn’t mean the only birdies out there are the ones in the Georgia pines.
Just one off the lead, Westwood doesn’t need to sweat that double bogey. He’s lucky in the sense that his rivals who made the charge yesterday came from back in the pack and weren’t the ones right behind him when he had the overnight lead on Thursday.
The ageless Fred Couples was five under yesterday to share the lead. Sergio Garcia was four-under in his bid for his first major. A pre-tournament favourite, Rory McIlroy, justified the buzz around him with a three-under performance in the second round.
One wonders if Jason Dufner’s facial express will change if he’s fitted with a green jacket, but the guy who once said “stress stresses me out” is tied for the lead with Couples at five under, after his two-under performance in the second round.
Dufner had better get used to being stressed out from here on in because with the traffic jam at the top of the leaderboard, there will be no more talk of mud balls and wind that reward a conservative game plan.
The sun came out on Friday afternoon to dry out a course that looks to become firm and fast with the wind that blew through in the second round. Surprisingly, none of the players who enjoyed the better scoring conditions Friday afternoon took advantage.
That’s likely to change on Saturday.
The next couple of days are expected to be sunny with temperatures in the low ’70s Fahrenheit and light winds, which should set up some fireworks as players look to separate themselves from the pack and others look to make gains from well off the lead.
Phil Mickelson, for example, shot a four-under 68 on Friday, and sits just three off the lead. Anything similar to that in the third round could have Lefty in the mix going into Sunday and you know he’ll go for it.
What may work in Mickelson’s favour is his short game because the greens are also expected to firm up, which will put pressure on approach shots, around the green and putting, especially if the guys in the green jackets get nasty with pin placements.
With 30 players at even par or better, the guys at the top are looking to separate themselves, while the guys like Mickelson are looking to make a charge.
This promises to turn into a tale of two tournaments as the Masters transitions from conservative to aggressive. The birdies get bigger from here on in, but the bogeys get more painful.
Respect for Augusta’s nastiness is a necessity, but so is attack on moving day. The hybrid term that emerges is controlled aggression for the weekend.
Couples is coming to Canada in late June when he’ll play the Montreal Champions Tour event ... Co-leader Dufner’s will have to improve a trend if he’s going to be in contention on Sunday. Coming into Augusta, Dufner’s 68.60 scoring average before the cut was fifth best on the PGA Tour this year, but that goes up to 71.67, 116th on tour, in the third round and 71.17, 76th on tour, in the final round ... You saw it, so it should be no surprise that I went through a column without mentioning Tiger Woods. D’oh! ... Give Henrik Stenson credit after his quadruple bogey on 18 Thursday threatened to unravel his entire 2012 Masters. Stenson said he would recover and did, finishing one-under on Friday, including a birdie on 18. Stenson’s just three back.
UNDER THE CUT LINE
Mike Weir sunk fast from his even par first round when he double bogeyed the first hole and reeled off four straight bogeys to make the turn at five over. He played the back nine at two over, including a double bogey on 17. It’s Weir’s fifth consecutive missed cut in North America after his return from elbow surgery and he is scheduled to play next week’s RBC Heritage at Harbour Town. Weir has also added the Wells Fargo Championship in early May to his schedule ... Weir is one of nine former Masters champs to miss the cut, including Ben Crenshaw (1984,1995), Larry Mize (1987), Tom Watson (1977, 1981), Ian Woosman (1991), Jose Maria Olazabal (1994,1999), Craig Stadler (1982), Bernhard Langer (1985, 1993) and Sandy Lyle (1988). Stadler and Lyle finished bottom of the heap at 19-under and 20-over, respectively ... Chez Reavie didn’t have the magic he pulled when he won the 2008 RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey. Reavie couldn’t recover from his 79 Thursday and posted a 74 Friday to miss the cut.