Augusta is as much about golf as it is about treasured traditions. The fairway angels, probably feeling abused by the irreverent 66 from a couple of not-so-favoured sons, called in help from the rain Gods to save them some blushes and haul back the pirates. A slow spitting rain, not enough to stop play but good enough to hold back the runaway golfers, was unleashed over Georgia on day 2 of this 77th Augusta Masters. The dampened course managed to hold its own, as the lead remained at 6 under in the hands of Jason Day, whose 68 was the best effort on the day. Overnight leaders Marc Leishman and Sergio Garcia failed to consolidate – scoring 73 and 76 respectively to slide down the slippery leader board.
Teenage sensation Guan Tianlang had even the trees at Augusta pining for more and another calm round of golf saw the 14-year-old sail through rough weather to survive into the weekend. The rule masters of the Augusta National Golf Club deigned that the lad was a tad slow after being timed at the 12th and 13th holes. The competition committee finally issued a one-stroke penalty, as rare as it is for a 14-year-old to be holding his own at a legendary setting, at the 17th hole to turn a well-earned par into a bogey. But none of that could prevent the precocious boy from eclipsing his playing partner Matteo Manassero as the youngest man to make the cut at a major.
The Italian was 16 when he accomplished the feat at the 2009 US Open. In fact, Tianlang is now the youngest ever to make the cut at any PGA Tour event, beating a 56 year old record – Bob Panasik was 15 when he took advantage of being at home to make the cut at the Canadian Open in 1957. Tianlang added a 75 to the mightily impressive 73 in the first round to help himself into the weekend. “I respect the decision,” said the eighth grader from Zhixin High School in Guangzhou. “This still is a wonderful experience. I enjoyed this week so far and think I did a pretty good job.” It is rather ironical that time should be a factor for a 14-year-old, even as it stands still for a veteran who is consistently in the fray at Augusta.
The 53-year-old Fred Couples, on the money each of the past three years, was once again sitting pretty as the joint leader before Day took charge. The Azaleas around the course may be fading a little, but not the timeless Couples. In the top twenty these past three years, the part-timer from the Champions Tour almost repeated the feat from last year when he was the halfway leader. Couples birdied the 18th to join McLeish who signed off on a steady yet unimpressive 73 as the clubhouse leaders at five under. “I did tee off Thursday with the idea of playing well,” said a confident Couples. “I’m surprised, but I’m not going to freak out over it.”
It was a mixed day again for the Australian, Jason Day. For a second straight day, the Aussie picked off six birdies to card a confident 68 that helped him to 138 overall and with the outright lead heading into an exciting Augusta weekend. With no real runaway effort possible in the gusting winds, the leader board has a packed look – as many as 25 players are sitting within five strokes off the leader making for an up in the air weekend that could still play out for anyone willing to be disciplined with their swing and putt.
The pre-tournament favourite Tiger Woods had a share of the lead midway through his round before slipping back a little. The man from Florida made the turn in 33, but bogeys on the 15th and 18th prevented him from holding sway at the end of the day. Woods was also in trouble on the par-3 16th when he found the sand, but he made a terrific save to make par and underline his keen desire to have a say over the weekend. “I was pretty annoyed,” said Woods when reminded of his third shot at the 15th that struck the flag before flying into the water. “It looked like I was making birdie and then I had to struggle not to drop two shots. It was a good six but I played really well today and the round should have been in the 60s.”
At four-under is a group of three that includes the 2009 champion, Angel Cabrera. The Argentine went on a tear towards the end – making four birdies in five holes to make an impressive 69. Alongside Cabrera were Brandt Snedeker, who made two under 70, and Jim Furyk, who took a 71. The crowded leader board has seven players bunched at three under alongside Woods – Adam Scott, Jason Dufner, KJ Choi, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and David Lynn.
Bubba Watson, the defending champion, was sweating even after he made a minor recovery before reaching the clubhouse. Watson threatened all day to become the ninth defending champion to fail to make the cut at Augusta, but left the count at eight with a 73 and a little help from Day. A double bogey at the 11th left him at six-over, the situation as depressing as the weather. But an action-packed back nine that featured two more bogeys compensated by four birdies helped him recover to four-over. In the end, he was left praying for an ordinary finish from Day as an Aussie birdie on the 17th or 18th would have taken the cut to +3.
Rory McIlroy is far from fluent, but you have to credit the young man for his composure and persistence. The former world No.1 had trouble straight off the tee – bogeys at the first and third threatened to derail his round. But the 23-year-old Ulsterman recovered his mojo with an eagle at the eighth to gain his own against the daunting course that was made even more difficult by the studied placement of some of the pins. “Anything under par today was going to be a good score and I stayed patient out there when I needed to and it was a good day,” said McIlroy. “The improvement in the putting from last night to today has been a big thing.”
Sergio Garcia continues to frustrate his beleaguered fans – the Spaniard sent three balls into the water around the course on Friday as he followed up his brilliant 66 on the first day with a miserable 76 to slip away to two-under. Also at two-under is the two-time champion Bernhard Langer (1985, ’93), who made the cut for the first time since 2005. It was a roller-coaster ride for Dustin Johnson, who had the outright lead at seven-under through 13 holes. But two double bogeys in the next five holes saw him drop six shots as he settled in at one-under.
The cut was adjusted to the top 50 and ties plus everyone within ten strokes off the leader. Among the prominent men who missed out on the weekend were Manassero, Y E Yang, last year’s runner-up Louis Oosthuizen, the US Open winner Webb Simpson and Padraig Harrington. With the scores not running too deep, the weekend is as open as one can remember in recent years. The race for the green jacket is wide open making for an exciting weekend.
-6 J Day
-5 F Couples, M Leishman
-4 A Cabrera, J Furyk, B Snedker
-3 A Scott, J Dufner, KJ Choi, D Lynn, L Westwood, J Rose, T Woods
-2 B Langer, S Garcia, R McIlroy, C Schwartzel
-1 L Donald
+1 S Lyle, E Els
+3 P Mickelson
+4 B Watson, G Tianlang