5 Things: Watson's bag man; Westie's rise; more
Friday, April 11, 2014
Some can debate the value of a caddie, but even when Bubba Watson appears to be in top form he's constantly working with his trusted assistant. The 2012 champion surged to the Masters lead with a second-round 68 on the strength of five straight back-nine birdies. Lee Westwood, meanwhile, found some polish for his game that hasn't been seen recently and the Walrus says he's probably made his last stand at Augusta National.
Here are 5 Things to know from Friday at the Masters.
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1. WATSON'S LEFT-HAND MAN? Ted Scott had a ringside seat to the Bubba Watson show on Friday. His caddie for most of his professional career was on the bag when the lefthander won in a playoff over Louis Oosthuizen in 2012.
On Friday he might have seen the best round Watson has shot at Augusta National, a 4-under 68 amid conditions that made scoring extremely difficult.
Scott, an accomplished player himself, has seen it all with Watson. When he says he’s playing great, its hard to dispute.
“He's had a great attitude all year, and he's approached every week the same as this week, so I think that's why he's having success this year,” Scott said of Watson’s approach. “He's in a good frame of mind.”
The run of five consecutive birdies started on the 12th, with what Scott said was a little baby 9-iron; then a 7-iron on the 13th, a 5-iron into the 15th and a 9-iron on the 16th showed that Watson was on his game and dismantling a part of the course that many found difficult.
But it was a chip to the left of the 18th hole that might have been the most remarkable.
Watson chipped the ball up above and beyond the pin, then watched the ball trickle back down the hill and also back towards the hole. Watson missed the putt, but his imagination was on full display with the chip shot.
“He sees that stuff,” Scott said of the chip on the 18th hole. “He goes, 'Here's what I'm going to do,' and I just go, 'Absolutely.' He remembered it from last year. He said, 'Remember last year,' and I said, 'Yeah,' and I didn't remember it. I was just trying to make him calm.
"He's got a phenomenal memory from watching people, and it seems like he can pull that out of his memory banks whereas I don't have that ability."
Watson has never led the Masters in the first three rounds; his best overnight position was third in the second round in 2012. Now Watson and Scott will have to deal with a 36-hole lead of three shots, which became clear after Friday’s round is not insurmountable.
“I think just keep doing what we're doing,” Scott said was his plan with Watson over the remaining 36. “One of the hardest things in sport is to have a lead in a PGA TOUR event, especially the Masters, but it's just because of all the distractions, so you've just got to focus on golf. That's what Bubba is good at. Forget all the other stuff.”
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2. WESTWOOD'S MAJOR IMPROVEMENT: Englishman Lee Westwood has not recorded a top 10 on the PGA Tour in 2014. But when he steps on the grounds of Augusta National. the past is thrown out the window.
In his last four appearances, Westwood has not finished worse than 11th – including a runner-up finish in 2010 and a third in 2012.
Friday, Westwood shot a 1-under 71 and at even par for the tournament, Westwood’s 15th-place position is very comfortable for the former World No. 1.
“Just didn't play the par 5s well enough again,” Westwood said of the scoring holes at Augusta National. “Didn't play them well enough yesterday. I made eight 5s and that's where you need to make your scores. Need to make a few birdies on them over the weekend and I'll be right in there, I think.”
One of Westwood’s issues in 2014 has been a swing change that he believed was necessary. With the help of Mike Walker, Westwood’s swing is coming into form, but still needs the benefits of swing keys, because it's not automatic yet.
“Building,” Is how Westwood described his swing changes. “I can't just go out there and swing it and hit it as hard as I want and it will come out straight. I've got a couple of swing thoughts going on, but they are swing thoughts I can play with.”
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3. FURYK DIALS IT BACK: Jim Furyk is not long by modern day PGA Tour standards. So when he would come to Augusta National, he would try to hit a higher ball that would also travel further in the air.
What that would create was errant shots off the tee and missed fairways that would in turn put Furyk in more difficult positions.
This year, Furyk came to Augusta National not trying to hit it harder or longer. It seems to have worked.
Furyk hit 14 of 14 fairways in the second round and at the halfway point has hit 27 of 28 fairways or 96.4 percent, the same number Furyk recorded in 1998 when he finished fourth, his best score in the Masters.
With no 3-putts and hitting 14 of 18 greens, Furyk ‘s 68 tied the best score of the day with Watson, Denmark's Thomas Bjorn and Australia's John Senden.
“This year I really just tried to play my game,” Furyk said. “I've driven the ball very, very well, put the ball in play a lot, had good angles to pins. I wasn't able to really capitalize on my iron play yesterday, but today I gave myself a lot of opportunities.”
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4. WALRUS' EXIT; GENTLE PERSISTENCE: Age catches up to everyone and Craig Stadler is no exception. The 1982 Masters winner struggled to find any redeeming benefits from his 38th Masters and after rounds of 82-77, decided that his days of competing in the Masters are over.
“Well, as far as I'm concerned, this is it,” Stadler said after a round that just 30 minutes earlier his son Kevin had just made the cut. “I'm done. But if they call me two weeks before and say we want to pair you with Kevin, I would probably play. I think that would be the only way.”
Ben Crenshaw, the 1984 and 1985 Masters champion is not too far behind Stadler. Gentle Ben, as he’s been known on Tour, believes his time is close – but not done. He plans on playing one more year before calling it quits.
“I've been thinking about it a long time,” Crenshaw said of quitting. “It won't be long. It won't be long. I'm very resigned to it. It'll probably be soon. I'm thinking about next year possibly.”
Between Crenshaw and Stadler, they have played in 81 Masters.
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5. GREAT DAY FOR DANE: Thomas Bjorn has a hodgepodge record at Augusta National that includes four missed cuts and seven made, but with no finishes in the top 10, that could change this weekend.
Bjorn recorded a 4-under 68, tying the lowest score shot during Friday’s second round and only Bjorn’s fifth round in the 60s out of 24 rounds.
Tied for third with Jonas Blixt, defending champion Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, the Dane is in position to win his first major championship at the halfway point, but with some serious work to do at four shots off the pace of Watson.
“So today I tried to do the right things and I executed it well,” Bjorn said of his second round. “It's right up there. I felt comfortable on the golf course today and that's always a sign that you've got a good idea of where your golf swing is and how you're hitting the ball. Because if you're not in control of what you're doing you don't feel comfortable on this golf course.”
Bjorn credits his finish last year, a T-46 as a big factor in his early success this week. Not playing very well, Bjorn made the cut and realized that putting yourself in the right positions even if you’re not playing very well that you can score and ultimately survive Augusta National.
With that knowledge Bjorn has tired to put himself in the right positions and take advantage when he can.
“Two holes today where I felt like I didn't get into position,” Bjorn said. “And then you walk away with bogey. And that's the way the golf course is. But there's so many holes where you get yourself in a little bit of trouble and just hit it there and you've got a pretty easy chip, but it becomes pretty simple to make 4. But that's the balance of this golf course. And we know it, but sometimes we get a little bit too cute with our golf and you take on too much and then it will bite you."