For Some Augusta National is Manageable


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- All this moaning and groaning about how hard Augusta National is? How impossible conditions are? How it hasn't played this tough in years?
Don't go there with Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington and Jerry Kelly. They managed to get it done.
Casey and Harrington fired 4-under 68s Friday, the low rounds of the Masters so far, while Kelly posted a 3-under 69 despite a bogey on the last hole. Kelly is tied for fourth, two strokes behind leaders Brett Wetterich and Tim Clark (142). Harrington is at 145, and Casey is five strokes off the lead.
'This golf course always gives you a chance to shoot a good score,' said Harrington, who even had a double-bogey on his card, on the par-4 No. 7. 'There are possibilities of making birdies as long as you keep your momentum going and you don't have a mishap. That's the great thing about this course.'
After Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the other big hitters started making Augusta's grand old course look like a pitch-and-putt muni, Masters officials exacted their revenge. They've added 520 yards since 2002 alone -- that's equivalent to a par-5 hole -- and the course now measures a super-sized 7,445 yards.
But there had yet to be a true test of the green jackets' new monster. Rain each year softened things up. While that made the course play longer, it also made the greens more forgiving and took a bite out of a signature part of the course.
This year, though, there hasn't been any rain. The fairways are firm and the greens are as hard as nearby Washington Road. Throw in swirling winds and cool conditions, and Augusta has turned into quite the beast.
'It's been a long time since anybody has seen it play like this,' Kelly said. 'I've played extremely patient, which is not my M.O. But it has to be around here. Otherwise, it's going to eat your lunch.'
Look at some of the scores posted so far. An 87 by rookie Casey Watabu. Two scores in the 80s by two-time champion Seve Ballesteros. Three-time major winner Ernie Els went 78-76 and missed the cut.
Even Casey shot a 79 in the first round.
'I had put myself in a position where I had to shoot a decent number today,' said Casey, who tied for sixth here in 2004 and missed the cut the following year. 'I thought it had to be at worst, level par. Anything better was great. And it is better, so it's great.'
Casey got his day off to the right start with an eagle on the par-5 No. 2. He almost holed out on the 155-yard 12th with a nine iron, the ball landing about two inches from the cup.
If not for a bogey on 18, his round would have been just about perfect.
'If you can get close to him, you must be doing something right as he is usually near the pointy end of the leaderboard,' the Englishman said of Woods, one of his playing partners.
'I was actually a bit disappointed to tie with him at the end, as I had him there.'
Casey shot a 35 on the back nine Friday, the same as Woods.
Harrington, playing with Kelly and Luke Donald, opened with three straight birdies Friday. That's as many as he had for his entire round Thursday. He had a double-bogey on No. 7 after knocking his tee shot into the trees, but got the stroke right back on the next hole.
After a bogey on the par-4 10th, he played the last eight holes at 3 under.
'There's a lot of players here this week that are slightly shorter off the tee and can compete on this golf course now because they can get the ball running,' Harrington said. 'It sort of does negate the distance between the very long hitters. Tim Clark ... he'll tell you himself he's no big hitter, and he's obviously up there again.
'So this golf course, it does allow it to be played many ways. It's not limited to one style of play.'
Kelly isn't a grip-it-and-rip-it guy, either. A former college hockey player, he's more of a grinder, somebody who plays for position rather than power. But he can also get a little, how shall we say it, distracted. He's never finished better than 20th at a major.
Kelly switched to a new blade putter a few weeks ago, and credits that with helping him save pars on the fast greens. He's also been working with Lanny Bassham, an Olympic gold medalist in rifle shooting, to improve his focus.
'Especially when you get on a place like this, if you're thinking about too many things, you're done,' Kelly said. 'I try too much, and that's exactly what I'm getting into with Lanny. Try to get a good process and not worry about the rest, not worry about how to do it.'
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