AUGUSTA, Ga. April 7, 2012 — If the Masters opening day was defined by soggy terrain and steamy heat, Friday dawned chillier and overcast on the hallowed grounds in Augusta, Georgia.
The course is full of new, beautifully landscaped free parking lots, but the downside is that they are roughly 1-1/2 to 2 miles from the course. Double the pain of the long walk by being out in the heat while lugging chairs and bags of the ubiquitous souvenirs, and no wonder the main conversation was of utter exhaustion.
Perhaps the happiest man in the clubhouse at the conclusion of the first day was Lee Westwood with 5-under, a one-shot lead, which had to be a triumphant feeling, including a spot-on eight-foot putt.
Erstwhile-winner, Tiger Woods, had some real problems and ended up with even par for the day. Perhaps Tiger has been reading the new book by his former swing coach, Hank Haney, “The Big Miss” (apparently with no double entendre involved).
Evidently he has not been reading it closely enough, though changing your swing is like erasing all the memory chips in your brain and replacing them. Tiger’s early tally yesterday of wildly hooked shots and slushy mud balls played havoc with his scores.
The big names still did remarkably well given the condition of the course, with South African Louis Oosthuizen drawing a 4-under and six behind him with 3-under 69s.
Friday morning the air was cooler, but clouds dangled overhead and held in the showers. The wind was a definite factor, the little yellow hole flags were standing almost straight out, and putts seemed to have a mind of their own.
No question but that even into the late afternoon the greens were still difficult, and retaining more moisture than anyone would like. Talking about the greens, Phil Mickelson, who was having a much better day on Friday, gave one of those enigmatic golf-speak statements, saying, “I wouldn’t say the greens are too wet, but they are very un-Augusta-esque.” O….K……
Tiger continued to have problems with both his long game and his short strokes. Borrowing a bit from old-timer Gary Player, Tiger wore dark pants and a sweater so dark blue it was almost black, which probably matched his disposition, particularly at putts like 3, 4, and 8. You could watch him hit the ball, then shake his head perceptibly, as if trying to discover what was going wrong.
If Tiger went for dark colors, you had to admire Gerry “Bubba” Watson. There was a one-inch pink stripe around the sleeve of his white shirt, one would assume to carry out the pink theme of his Ping driver, on which both the shaft and the head are pink.
Who can’t like an admitted Southern redneck, who uses a pink club, and owns the original Dukes of Hazzard car, “The General,” which he picked up for $110,000.00? He and his wife just adopted a one-month old baby boy, named Caleb, and his nights of sleeping have probably been diminished a little.
In the same color choice but intensified, England’s Luke Donald was in a bright rose pink. He could be seen from some distance away, looking for all the world like an Easter egg.
By the time Tiger hit some of the last holes of the day, he’d birdied 12 straight and was sitting 35th, his frustration palpable. On the 15th hole, he hit a ball into the crowd, dutifully hollering “Fore” as it sailed through the air. It’s as though he was trying too hard as he hit into a sand trap, but a fairly simple bunker shot put him close to the hole.
When he reached the 16th hole, his first shot was so bad that he threw his club and then kicked it. Somehow I thought they got penalized in the PGA for such transgressions. On the 17th he hit with a nine iron and ended up + 3. The 18th was no better as he was again in a bunker, and in his 68th career round, he hit one very good shot, and the usual smile of the Tiger came out briefly. After ending yesterday with even par, today he was + 3 and a 75.
It was not my intent to dwell on Mr. Woods, but you have to admit he’s a good story. We began to wonder if he would not have better luck if they painted fireplugs on the yellow flags.
Everyone else played a fairly normal, hardworking bunch of rounds, and the final leaders were Fred Couples and Jason Dufner, Rory McIlroy still fighting to stay up, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, with Louis Oothuizen and Bubba Watson also in the stack. Today they cut those exceeding a 5+ record, and that will narrow the field down considerably.
With all the clout and regulations the Masters has at its disposal, it’s a shame that they can’t wangle a no-fly zone over the course. The roar or whine of small planes could be heard all day, and several times the golfers had to look skyward and wait till the noise abated.
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