A testing breeze, firm greens and challenging pins made for an interesting Friday, with a number of contenders falling victim to the 9th. Augusta bites back...
Augusta bites back! A 20mph breeze at an Open Championship would barely raise an eyebrow; a 20mph wind at Augusta National would appear to be enough to wreak havoc among the world’s best golfers, many of whom struggled to read the breeze blowing through the pines and work out how best to get it close to pins described as brutal by some of the players.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth got more than a little stressy, and many players dropped shots on a day when shooting 74 or 75 was no disgrace and barely cost you your place on the leaderboard. In fact, the average score drifted above 75, with only seven players under par at day’s end
So we’re heading into the weekend with an intriguing leaderboard packed with golf’s biggest names, a supremely confident and talented amateur in Bryson DeChambeau who kept it going better than anyone for 17 holes, and a whole gaggle of players for whom stepping up to the plate over the weekend would represent a major career move.
The pin position on the 9th caused a number of players issues, none more so than Sergio Garcia who had several goes at the approach pitch before finally getting one to settle on the right level and signing for a double.
Spieth too had one roll back off the front en route to bogey, while Henrik Stenson also spun one off the front and dropped a shot. Perhaps most eyecatching of all was Phil Mickelson who left his approach on the top level and then putted back off the green before getting it up and down for bogey.
This once most reliable of putters, now using both the claw and a fat putter grip, was one-under and nicely placed through six, but gradually fell apart from there on, ultimately missing the 30-footer on 18 he needed to make it through to the weekend. Justin Rose, another claw grip convert, found his new putting method less reliable in round two as he repeatedly left putt shorts, but still finds himself reasonably placed on two-over heading into the weekend.
But out front, it’s the final Saturday pairing golf fans across the world might have been hoping for – Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. Spieth got to eight-under early on the front nine, at which point he was several shots clear of everybody. But he got pretty ragged coming home as the swirling breeze – and finding himself on the clock – really got to him.
Conversely, after Thursday’s tame finish, McIlroy finished strongly Friday with two birdies in his last four holes and a gutsy par save on 18. Spieth is four-under, with Rory one adrift, while world No.1, Jason Day, isn’t too far back either on one-over after again struggling on the back nine.
All to play for…