Fortunes at Masters can turn on one bad hole

After his chip shot sped off the green, Louis Oosthuizen searches for the spot his ball entered the pond at Augusta National's par-5 15th hole on Friday.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – The beauty of Augusta National, from the standpoint of excitement, is that danger lurks everywhere, and intervenes when one least expects it. Louis Oosthuizen, two years ago a runner-up here, was sailing along nicely on the back nine early Friday in the second round of the 78th Masters. He’d made a bold eagle at 13 to move to 4 under par, and had a green-light situation at the reachable par-5 15th to potentially add one more eagle and gather more crystal for his cupboard back home in South Africa.

The wind was tricky, and he’d just watched fellow competitor Matt Kuchar dunk his second shot into a fronting pond, so Oosthuizen didn’t mind when he put a little extra into his approach from 215 yards and the ball rolled through the back of the green.

That’s when all the fun started. His pitch to a front right hole location from behind the green started slowing near the hole . . . then picked up steam on the downhill grade and sped up. And sped up some more. It was like watching a NASCAR crash in slow motion, Oosthuizen’s Titleist ProV1x trickling toward its watery death as he strolled onto the green and watched his ball race down the shaved-down bank and vanish into the pond. A drop well back down the fairway, a pitch 35 feet beyond the flagstick and three putts later, and Oosthuizen was walking off with triple-bogey 8.

Yikes.

Said Oosthuizen, "This golf course is all about leaving yourself in the right spots, and that was an error. So I know now not to go there again.”

He’s not alone, though, when it comes to golfers watching their rounds get turned upside-down in the most unexpected spots the past two days. In Round 1, Phil Mickelson, a five-time major winner and short-game magician, was just off the green at the par-4 seventh, no more than 30 feet from the hole. He made triple-bogey 7. Friday at the historic par-3 12th, when he needed to make a move to make it inside the cutline, he went from front bunker to back bunker and back again to the sand, making another greenside triple.

PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner watched his week float away Thursday at the par-5 13th, where he was just off the green in two – and made 9.

“I don’t know any other place where that happens,” Kuchar said Friday. “It's an amazing thing to be just over the green in two and walk away with a triple. I don't see that anywhere else but here.”

At Augusta National, it happens frequently, and when it does, we’re all reminded how quickly one can go from a contender to an after-thought. Early Friday morning, Aussie Marc Leishman ran off three consecutive birdies to start his round, and through 21 holes, he led the Masters. But he’d double Nos. 9 and 12, shoot 79, and by late afternoon, at 5-over 149, was hoping just to play the weekend.

Gary Player, who made an astounding 52 career starts at Augusta, always loved the give and take that is the essence of Augusta National. It’s a place where one player can get hot, another can go cold, and lots of two-way traffic ensues.

“One year, I was playing with Arnold (Palmer),” Player said, “and now people don’t believe this, but he was nine shots ahead of me playing the third hole. And we stood on the 12th tee, and I was two ahead of him. I just get a kick when I hear somebody say, ‘Oh, he’s four or five shots ahead, he’s got it.’ You guys know that’s nothing. You can lose that on one hole, particularly under pressure.

“That’s the thing that always intrigued me about Augusta. This massive exchange of strokes. Look at Ken Venturi, who shot 80 and lost a big lead (on Sunday in 1956, as Jackie Burke Jr. came from eight shots behind to win). I’ve seen so many fascinating things at this golf course.”

As firm and fast as it’s playing, if he hangs around this weekend at the ever-treacherous Augusta National, he likely will see a few more.

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