At the Masters Par is Merely Another Number

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- They walked off Augusta National much the way they came on it, two by two, bundled against the cold. Their misery finally over, they trudged into the scorer's shack where the carnage could be tallied.
 
Phil Mickelson lingered longer than most. He had assigned himself some extra work to do, and the warmth of the tiny green shack next to the 18th green seemed just the place to do it.
 
'Just checking scores, figuring out where I'm at and where I need to go,' Mickelson said. 'I've got to get a game plan on how to shoot a round in the 60s.'
 
Good luck with that, Phil. That's about as easy as solving global warming.
 
Not that global warming was a major concern on this spring Saturday in Augusta, where record cold threatened both the azalea bushes and the sanity of players who pretty much already live on the edge mentally anyway.
 
There were plenty of other things to worry about, though, most of them involving some new variation of getting the proverbial square peg into a round hole.
 
In this case, it was getting a round golf ball into a round hole, something the 60 players who ventured out on this wintry day get paid to do every day. They're usually quite good at it, particularly this one fellow named Tiger Woods.
 
But on a day when the course was as easy to hate as it was lovely to look at, there were so many wrecks going on that they might have held the Daytona 500 in Amen Corner.
 
Just off the beautifully manicured fairways were billions of trees and oceans of water to threaten wayward balls. The greens were so hard and slick they were better suited to bowling balls than Pro VI's.
 
Or maybe it just seemed that way for those unfortunate enough to find out what the guys in the green jackets really had in mind when they decided that enough was enough and people had better quit messing with their golf course.
 
Believe it or not, they actually moved some tees up and watered the greens in a last-minute but ultimately futile effort not to make things any more embarrassing than they already were.
 
They held a Masters, and a U.S. Open broke out.
 
'It was like trying to land a golf ball on your driveway, but your driveway has mounds on them and they stick the pin near the mounds,' Rich Beem said.
 
Beem is a funny guy, but there was nothing funny about what unfolded before the shivering patrons of Augusta National on this afternoon. It's hard to find much humor on a day when the two co-leaders going into the round couldn't even break 80.
 
One by one, players collapsed, staggering to the finish in the worst day of scoring in the Masters since they went to Bentgrass greens in 1981. Things were so bad that anybody turning in a scorecard should have been handed a box of Kleenex.
 
Stuart Appleby had the most to cry about, though Aussies generally don't do that kind of thing. He was 1 under and leading by two shots when he came to the 17th hole, yanked a drive left and walked off the green with a triple bogey 7.
 
Not to worry, mate. With everyone else spitting it up around him, he'll still have a one-shot lead to sleep on, assuming the nightmares don't interfere.
 
'The course is just ready to slap you in the head if you do anything wrong,' Appleby said.
 
Woods wasn't immune, bogeying the last two holes to ruin what had been a remarkably steady round under the circumstances. Little did he know walking off the 18th green with a scowl on his face an hour ahead of the leaders that things would go so south for them that he would be playing in the final group on Sunday.
 
Woods was one of the lucky ones. He was one of only two players to shoot par.
 
Only one player broke par, and it wasn't surprising that it was Retief Goosen. When you've been struck by lightning on the golf course, slick greens are the least of your worries.
 
This Masters has been tough from the opening ceremonial tee shot that Arnold Palmer pulled into the left rough on Thursday, and it's been that way by design. The green jackets added yards, trees, rough and sand last year to make it more of a test for today's big hitters, and they succeeded beyond expectations.
 
It doesn't figure to get any better on Sunday, a day when viewers are used to watching a back nine duel of eagles and birdies. The course is so dry and hard that they could turn the sprinklers on all night and it wouldn't make a difference. And there are only so many easy pin placements to be had.
 
Woods, of course, will be a heavy favorite to win for the fifth time here. He's just a stroke behind, and there's no one else in the top seven who has ever won a major, much less 12 of them.
 
But don't count Mickelson out. He is the defending champion, and he is the only player who was concocting a game plan even while others around him were signing their scorecards.
 
Best of all, the late collapses mean he probably doesn't even need anything in the 60s anymore.
 
Now if he could just do something about global warming.
 
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