Augusta playing as tough as ever in first two rounds


AUGUSTA, Ga. – This wasn’t how things were supposed to play out according to those who read tea leaves and the grain on Tea Olive, the name for Augusta National’s climbing opening hole.

Between Monday’s deluge, the destruction of the Eisenhower Tree and the rebuilding of Tiger Woods’ back, the path to the green jacket in 2014 was supposed to be, if not less encumbered, then at the least a tad more accommodating.

But the combination of surprisingly difficult pins on Day 1 and devilishly confusing winds on Friday has produced the harder side of Augusta National.

If the year’s first major is defined by pine-rattling cheers, the sound track for this week’s edition has been largely moans for anyone not named Bubba.

There were moans when Phil Mickelson went from bunker to bunker to bunker at the 12th hole and signed for a triple-bogey 6 – his second triple in two days – when Jason Dufner signed for opening round of 80 and when Rory McIlroy airmailed the green at the fourth and introduced the world to a previously unseen corner of the historic club.

With the lone exception of Bubba Watson, who scorched the closing nine with five consecutive birdies, the soft and scorable course many envisioned during Monday’s downpour had gone rogue.

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It’s hardly a surprise, no course in golf changes as much from Monday to Thursday as Augusta National thanks to a time-tested setup and the best maintenance tech money can buy. Nor will it be a surprise when officials take the lid off on Sunday and white knuckles give way to red scorecards.

But for two days, Augusta National has been as testy as the traffic that chokes Washington Road the first week of April.

“In ’07 on that Saturday it probably played harder, that wind was going around like something at a fair,” Henrik Stenson said. “But today was really tough. At 13 I had a shot from the pine needles and hit 6-iron on the green, by the time I got to 14 it had turned down wind from the other direction . . . in 15 minutes.”

The consensus among the field - that after ’07 this was the most demanding two days to open a Masters in recent memory is not open to interpretation. Augusta National played nearly a stroke and a half higher on Thursday than it did for Round 1 last year and almost a half stroke higher than the cumulative average for the layout going back to 1942.

And Friday wasn’t much easier despite an apparent move by those who call the shots to dial back the hole locations, with a 74.08 average for a two-day average of 74.27. While that is well below the frigid blast that sent the 2007 field into a deep freeze (75.9), it wasn’t what players expected.

Winds that gusted past 20 mph on Friday seemed to be the primary culprit, but some of the confusion stems from a rare dose of creativity in coming up with this week’s hole locations.

“There were some good (hole locations) today, and yesterday they were harder than you normally get on a Thursday,” said Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters winner making his 43rd start at Augusta National.

Specifically, players were surprised to see a never-before-used hole location on No. 5, where the hole was placed on the lower plateau of the green five paces from the right edge.

“They broke the ice at No. 5,” said one caddie on Friday who has looped in a few dozen Masters. “I’ve never seen it there, not even during a practice round.”

They also broke some backs.

Gone for the weekend will be Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson; while McIlroy, the favorite entering the week, finished two days on the number at 4 over and 11 strokes back.

For those who made it to the weekend, however, there is the prospect of better days. On Friday it appeared as though officials dialed back the hole locations and the wind is forecast to subside on Saturday and Sunday.

“It looks like they're doing six, six, six. Six (holes) you can get at and six you can kind of get at and six you're lucky if you get to it, kind of thing. Which is great,” Lucas Glover said. “That's the way it ought to be. It's a major.”

There will be roars on the weekend at Augusta National, there always are. The field and the fans just had to endure two days of moans to get there.