Bunker Mentality

Westwood kickstarts classic in the making

Bunker Mentality

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With the tees set back, the pins tucked away and the wind swirling like water draining down a plughole the drama looked to have dried up a bit on Friday at Augusta. For the opening few hours birdies were rare and roars on the course relatively few.

Luckily, nobody had told Lee Westwood that the course was meant to be playing at its toughest. The European number one parred his opening hole, then hit a shot of such staggering genius on the par-5 second that it seemed almost unfair that his reward was 'only' an eagle three.

Seeing the red numbers posted on the leaderboards around the bowl of greenery that makes up Augusta must have spurred the field on, because the putts started going in all over the course. There were just 235 birdies on Friday compared to 311 on Thursday, but it felt like almost all of them came in the last three or four hours of play.

And amidst it all, three amazing things happened.

First, a pair of English golfers rose to the top of a Major leaderboard probably for the first time since golf clubs had hickory shafts.

Second, a scandal-hit athlete took a giant step towards becoming 'just' a golfer once more: Tiger was no longer playing his first round back, and was instead merely playing.

And third, both Woods and Phil Mickelson - generally accepted as the world's second-best golfer even if his world ranking is three - are jostling for position in a Major together at the same time, a rare occurrence even in regular US Tour events and something to be savoured in one of golf's biggest tournaments.

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Tiger Woods, right, tips his cap while walking on the 16th fairway with K.J. Choi of South Korea during the second round of the Masters golf tournamen
It all adds up to perhaps the most fascinating script seen at a half-way stage of a tournament since The Open at Turnberry in 1977.  

Even the bit part players are first rate: a 17-year-old amateur makes the cut despite being the youngest player ever to take part at The Masters; golden oldies Fred Couples and Tom Watson hang on in the top 10 despite a tough day at the office; and defending champion Angel Cabrera makes two ridiculous birdie putts in the final three holes to make the cut by the thickness of his golf glove.

It could all yet fizzle out into an unforgettable weekend, with a dull, rank-and-file journeyman winner coming through the pack. But frankly, who cares, because the 2010 Masters has already given us some of the best entertainment in golf for years.

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Shot of the day: Lee Westwood gave his second round an early boost that was like giving a shot of adrenaline to a cheetah: his second shot to the par-5 second hole defied the length of the hole, the huge drop in elevation and the swirling winds to fly dead on line, land perfectly, and roll up to leave an 18-inch tap-in for an eagle. It doesn't get much better than that.

Quote of the day: From Ian Poulter, who was reminded of his comments a couple of years ago about being second only to Tiger. (Question: You took some schtick a couple years ago about comments about trying to climb up to number two in the world; have you vindicated yourself from of the criticism you got then?) "Sure, if I win this week, I'll probably go number two, which would be lovely. So I guess it's a work-in-progress!"

Surprise of the day: Lots of young, cocky amateurs come to Augusta full of promise, talk a good game and disappear without trace even after a solid opening round. But not Matteo Manassero, who followed his excellent opening 71 with a just-good-enough 76 to make it to the weekend. For the youngest ever player to tee up in The Masters, that's unbelievably good going.

Nonsense of the day: Simon Dyson was putting together an incredible round of golf to give himself a chance of making the cut with six birdies in 12 holes from the second, but a rules official disturbed him on the 13th to tell him that he would be investigated after the round for an alleged infringement. Dyson was suspected of having grounded his club in a hazard - the creek on the 13th - but adamant he had done nothing wrong, and cleared by TV evidence. Yet the distraction sent his concentration spinning, and started him on a run of three bogeys in a row. He missed the cut by two shots.

Stats of the day: Lucky seven: Tiger Woods is seven under par for the eight par-5s he has played so far. Lucky 13: Lee Westwood has made 13 birdies in 36 holes, a strike rate of more than one in three.

 

 

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