Augusta's 15th transforms overnight to bite the field

Tiger Woods reacts after hitting the flagstick and the ball bounding back off the green and into the water at the 15th hole on Friday.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – All those crystal-makers who were forced to work overtime to produce those beautiful goblets that were needed after Thursday’s record-breaking day of eagles at Firethorn, Augusta National’s vaunted par-5 15th? They got to take a breather Friday.

Instead, the frantic work shifted over to the Masters medical staff, forced to make all those tourniquets in answer to the pain inflicted at Firethorn.

OK, we joke, but only a smidgen. Players may not have been battered and beaten at the 15th in Friday’s second round of the 77th Masters, but the contrast from Thursday’s first round was fascinating.

“That’s Augusta,” said Jose Maria Olazabal, who in his 25th Masters is sitting in the middle of the pack at 2 over, eight shots back, though very much in sync with the proceedings. In other words, when asked about how 15 played so easily Thursday (4.640 field average) yet so devilishly in Round 2 (4.925), the 47-year-old Spaniard offered a smile.

“You could go for it (try to reach in two), but with that pin (back left), well, I don’t think it’s smart.”

Amazing what a little wind shift will do, eh? Whereas players found it at their backs Thursday, when they got there Friday it was dead in their faces. The shift was startling.

Thursday, a Masters record was established when a whopping 10 eagles were made. Previously, the most eagles in a round at any hole was seven, but so lip-smacking fun was it that Ian Woosnam made his first eagle there in his 75th round at Augusta National. Ernie Els added his third eagle in his 65th round and the parade of those making a 3 included David Toms, Michael Thompson, Steve Stricker, Ted Potter Jr., Kevin Na, Matteo Manassero, Robert Garrigus and Rickie Fowler.

Els, speaking for the entire field, which added 43 birdies and had but three bogeys, was almost giddy.

“That flag (back right) was great to see. It was nice of them. Beautiful.”

Golf being a crazy game, Els had a scratchy, up-and-down round of 74 Friday, yet he managed to eagle the 15th again. So, too, did Garrigus, but after that, it was a much different story. On the day, there were more double bogeys (three) than eagles (two) and a dozen players made bogey.

Blame it on the wind, and if you’re asking, “How windy was it?” Jim Furyk offered this: “What I hit onto the green Thursday, I needed just to lay up, a hybrid, today.”

At 530 yards, Firethorn may not elicit the sort of romanticism as does its bookend partner on the back, the par-5 13th, but it is a proud and reputable hole that has defended the honor of this club and this tournament in so many ways and a number of occasions through the decades.

It may not have done so Thursday, but with a more westerly wind to give it some defense, it certainly did in Round 2. Consider, for instance, that of the top 13 names on the leaderboard, only Angel Cabrera made birdie at 15, and that group played it in a cumulative 3 over. Now the Masters may not start until the back nine on Sunday, but the back nine on Friday served a serious purpose, and it took its toll on the leaders.

First, Dustin Johnson. He got to 7 under with a birdie at 13, only to give a shot back at 14. But it was what he did at the 15th that unraveled him. Choosing to lay up after a drive too close to the trees on the right, Johnson hit his second shot much too close to the water fronting the green. It’s a dastardly play with the wedge, given that it’s downhill and a severely tight lie, and Johnson did what hundreds of great players have done: he chunked it into the water and made double.

Hours later, Jim Furyk was 5 under and tied for the lead when he repeated what Johnson had done, hitting his third shot into the water.

“I hit it too close (to the water),” Furyk conceded, though he at least accomplished the other half of the equation, getting his layup down the right side. Furyk with that hole location, back left, prefers to fire his third shot at an angle across the green.

“You just pick your poison,” he said. “It’s a touchy shot. I like the right, but some guys like the left.”

Olazabal, for instance. He laughed afterward, recalling how his amateur playing competitor, T.J. Vogel, took on the challenge with a mighty swipe of his 3-wood, but the Spaniard drove it right and laid it up down the left side so he came at the hole location straight on.

“Today, with that pin, if you go long over the green, it’s no good. But even laying up, it’s not easy.”

Olazabal managed to make par, but in addition to the double bogeys by Johnson and Furyk, Justin Rose and Tiger Woods were among the leaders to make bogey. Woods’ miscue, however, was a bizarre one; he was almost too perfect. Having driven into pine straw right, he laid it up down the right side and then delivered a wedge that slammed into the flagstick and ricocheted back into the water.

The bogey, Woods’ first of the round, dropped him out of a share of the lead, and he fell even further back when he three-putted the 18th.

That in itself was a stunning end to a day that offered typical Masters drama. But nowhere was this fun more plentiful than at Firethorn, where the crystal-maker got a break.

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