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‘Nothing’s safe ever’: Three tied atop Masters, where wind levels the field

‘Nothing’s safe ever’: Three tied atop Masters, where wind levels the field

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

AUGUSTA, Ga. — An uninvited gust swept through the Masters on Friday, rustling magnolia leaves, scattering hats and whipping up sandstorms across the course. It scattered the leader board and baffled the world’s best players.

Blustering through the pines, the breeze started as a morning whisper, turned into a midday hiss and then intensified into a late-afternoon howl. Wind gusts topped 40 mph in the second round, making a difficult golf course downright torturous.

The best part of the day? Leaving the course.

“The wind picked up like 3 miles an hour from my sigh,” Max Homa said following his round. “That was about as happy as you could be to be off a golf course.”

The wind knocked down drives and stymied putts. There was Tiger Woods on the 18th green, shielding his eyes from swirling sand. And Scottie Scheffler on the 15th tee box, stepping away from his ball, hoping for a break that wouldn’t come. And Bryson DeChambeau in the 16th fairway, staring at the sky, confounded by the oscillations that seemed to defy physics. One day after the best players went 6 and 7 under, most of the field was happy to break par. Only seven of the 89 golfers, in fact, managed that feat in the second round.

Homa was one of them, shooting a 1-under-par 71 that gave him a 6-under two-day score and a share of the lead heading into the weekend. He’s tied with DeChambeau, the first-round leader who posted a 73 Friday, and Scheffler, the world’s top-ranked golfer, who shot an even-par 72.

“I’ve never experienced Augusta National in these conditions before,” said DeChambeau, who’s making his eighth visit here.

Homa’s group, which included Woods and Jason Day, spent extra time on the final hole, waiting for the gusts to pause long enough so they could wrap up their round. The 18th green has no trees nearby, and the wind blasted through the bunkers, kicking up squalls of dust and forcing fans and players alike to cover their faces. Homa called it a “sand shower” and said it felt like “the golf course saying, ‘Get the hell out of here.’ ”

José María Olazábal, the 58-year old Spaniard, is playing in his 35th Masters, having famously won here twice. To be sure, he has seen it all at Augusta — but had never seen this.

“I don’t think it gets any tougher than this, to be honest,” said Olazábal, whose second-round 73 landed him just inside the cut line of 6 over. “This golf course with this amount of wind. … I mean, you really don’t know where the wind is coming from, what the wind is doing. Some of the times you are guessing how the ball is going to react up in the air.”

Augusta National is already a difficult course, where even in pristine conditions, the best golfers have to pick their poison from hole to hole. Shane Lowry called Friday’s round an “absolute battle.” He was chatting with his caddie walking up the 18th fairway, and they turned to boxing terms to make sense of it. “You’d think it was Round 12 today,” Darren Reynolds told Lowry, “not Round 2.”

The Irish golfer is plenty familiar with blustery conditions, but he said these were the toughest two days of golf he has experienced. “It’s honestly a lot of guesswork, a lot of luck involved,” he said.

“It’s hard to get it right if we were playing around a normal golf course, but you’re playing around Augusta National,” said Lowry, who posted a second-round 74 to leave him at 3 over entering the weekend.

Even players who tend to keep their cool in windy conditions struggled to make sense of what blasted through the course. Toss some blades of grass in the air and just watch them scatter in every direction.

“Out here, it’s just different,” said 22-year-old Akshay Bhatia, who posted a second-round 75. “It’s got a mind of its own.”

It was both riveting and slightly grotesque to watch, unpredictable squalls making the game’s best look somewhat mortal. Just look at some of the battered major champions:

Dustin Johnson, the 2020 Masters winner, posted eight bogeys on the day and shot a 79. Brian Harman, the reigning British Open champion, closed his morning round with two double bogeys and a triple, a back-nine score of 47. Jordan Spieth, the 2015 green jacket winner, turned in a scorecard sullied with a ghastly 9 on the par-5 15th hole. And Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters champ, posted an 8 on the par-4 11th, which was sandwiched between double bogeys on 10 and 12.

Every hole felt different, and every hole presented a fresh challenge. The direction of the wind kept changing, which meant all those practice rounds and yardage books and video review sessions were of limited use.

Seemingly no hole played the way it was supposed to. The stats say No. 11 played the toughest Friday — just one birdie and a cumulative score of 56 over par — but the truth is, there were no easy ones. There were 34 bogeys on No. 7 alone. And what about the 152-yard 12th hole?

“When we got up there, it felt like no wind, and it’s gusting,” said Nicolai Hojgaard, whose second-round 73 put him at 4 under on the tournament, in fourth place and two shots off the lead. “I think 12 is the trickiest shot on the golf course, even though it’s not that long.”

“It’s just hard,” Canadian Adam Hadwin said. “These greens, pin locations are set into areas that you’ve got to be precise into. So you’re standing over the golf ball basically guessing half the time.”

It didn’t really matter the hole — there were no gimmes out there.

“Nothing’s ever done,” said Tommy Fleetwood, the 33-year old English golfer, “like nothing’s safe ever, whether you’ve got a three-footer or whatever it is. You’re just never done until you’ve actually got the ball in the hole.”

“Even a [one-]foot putt, you can miss,” Tyrrell Hatton said. “You just get a gust at the wrong time with some of the slopes. It’s pretty intense.”

The wind swept through and by nightfall had helped clear the field. The cut left 60 players returning for the weekend, including Woods, who has now made a record 24 consecutive cuts here.

To a man, they’re happy to be returning Saturday — and were thrilled to leave Friday.

“Even at a place as amazing as this — I was picturing my couch and the TV,” Homa said. “Just wanted to be done. Just be inside. That’s all we were rooting for.”

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