Masters 2017: Little joy after 2 rough days at Augusta

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Masters 2017: Little joy after 2 rough days at Augusta

PGA Tour

Masters 2017: Little joy after 2 rough days at Augusta

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Masters usually is the year’s fun major, the happy-face-emoji major, the one that hands out crystal highball glasses for eagles and doles out all sorts of other nice trinkets – medals and salvers, bowls and vases – as special treats. For those in the north leaning on snow shovels in their driveways, it’s the first sign – albeit carried across a television screen – that spring may indeed one day arrive.

But two days into the 81st Masters, there has not been a great deal of joy in Mudville. Rains knocked out most of two practice days and rendered the course longer than usual. Now that the tournament proper is here, eagles, for most, are nothing but a rumor, birdies are rare, and Old Man Par can be a man’s BFF.

This isn’t supposed to happen. Not here. This place is all about eagles soaring at those back-nine par 5s, Nos. 13 and 15, balls funneling left toward the hole at the par-3 16th, and those special roars that rattle through the tall Georgia pines. They are distinct, with patrons knowing a certain treble means something big has happened over at 12, or hey, hear that, some thunderclap occurrence has just gone down at 15.

Instead, chilly seasonal temps in the 50s and high gusting winds past 20 mph have given us a new made-for-TV series called “Survivor: Augusta.” It’s eerily quiet out on the grounds. It’s difficult to clap loudly with mittens on. The only eagle thus far at the usual harmless 530-yard 15th? It came on a hole-out from 90 yards by Branden Grace late on Friday, moving him to, um, plus-4.

Masters 2017 Ernie Els

Ernie Els mastered the elements to make the cut at Augusta. (Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)

“You’ve got U.S. Open, Open Championship, everything. You’re playing in wind, you play tough pin placements, really fast greens, and a great golf course,” said four-time major champion Ernie Els, who, at 3-over 147, easily made the cut, which included top 50 and ties. “Put it all together, and you have an unbelievable place.” Els, who at 47 could possibly be competing in his final Masters (this is his 23rd, but he never has landed a green jacket), was visibly angered and a little on edge at the end of his round, having just finished bogey-bogey after doing the hard part, playing 16 holes in tough conditions at 1 over. But he was not alone in his misery on Friday.

Defending champion Danny Willett (149) would miss the cut, something basically cemented when he made a quadruple-bogey 8 on the opening hole. Henrik Stenson, one of the best iron players on the planet, continued his mystifying rough run at the National, too. He was headed home after rounds of 77-75. A dozen Masters starts for Stenson have produced zero top 10s, just three rounds in the 60s and four missed cuts.

How do you say “bupkus” in Swedish?

First-round leader Charley Hoffman? He shot 75, which was 10 shots higher than he’d shot a day earlier, but still shares the lead with Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and first-timer Thomas Pieters, the new Belgian Bomber.

Masters Charley Hoffman

Charley Hoffman saw his score jump by 10 shots to a 75 in Friday’s second round. (Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)

“Today I think I sort of felt how hard it was for everybody else in this wind when you sort of got out of position,” Hoffman said.

Matt Kuchar is a guy who can smile at tax audits, so you’ll never get him to put Augusta National in a headlock. Usually, any round at the Masters is a delightful exercise that fills him with unabashed joy. When he got to play the course once each year in the late 1990s as a member of the golf team at Georgia Tech, he said he’d be sad walking off each green, knowing his round was inching that much closer to being over. 

That has not been the case this week. Rounds of 72-73 have positioned him just outside the top 10, and very much in contention. But it’s been anything but easy.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “Normally, the rounds of golf here are so exciting. You play one hole (in the tournament), and you’re so excited to get to the next hole. All of a sudden you’re finished with 18 and you’re in the clubhouse ordering a cheeseburger, and you’re saying, ‘I can’t believe that it’s over.’

“Yesterday and today, I finished on 18 and went, ‘I’m glad it’s over.’”

Bobby Jones, the Masters tournament co-founder along with Clifford Roberts, wanted players to earn their birdies for sure. But he pulled for them to do so, mostly so that the patrons would be more excited, and would enjoy his tournament more.

Masters 2017 Round 2

Expect to see much more and larger red red numbers on the Masters leaderboard this weekend as temperature warm into the 70s and winds calm. (Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)

As for days like the last two we’ve had at Augusta National? Well, Jones was prepared for those, as well.

“The toughest opponent of all,” the eloquent Jones once penned, “is Old Man Par. He’s a patient soul who never shoots a birdie and never incurs a bogey. And if you would travel the long road with him, you must be patient, too.”

Those words are befitting here at the 81st Masters, where Old Man Par would find himself only four shots behind the leaders and very much in contention headed to the weekend.

Saturday and Sunday, the weather is expected to climb out of the 50s, the sun is supposed to shine, the wind is expected to lighten, and we may just get some back-nine excitement yet. Augusta National’s crystal budget could take a big hit.

Kuchar, for his part, finished early enough to have earned a bulk of his afternoon off. He was looking forward to heading to his rented home and putting his feet up after two days of heavy labor.

“I get the fun part of going home and watching it TV,” he said, “and watching the guys try to figure this place out from the couch.”

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