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Race for Green jacket hots up at Augusta Masters

April 08, 2018 08:16 IST

Tiger Woods appears to be unmatchable in appeal, even when he does not play well as at this year's Masters.
Siddharth Shriram reports from the Augusta National Golf Club

Tiger Woods

IMAGE: Tiger Woods on the 18th green during the second round of the 2018 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Having talked up Tiger Woods so much, even to the point of irritating some readers, I followed his group and the succeeding group diligently.

I was severely chided by an Australian friend who felt that not enough respect was given to Marc Leishman and that I would shortly eat my words; Peter Thomson, the famous golfer, also from Australia, wrote in to say that the one to look at was Jordan Spieth and not Tiger Woods.

How right they were as Leishman steadily climbed up the leader board while Tiger looked so lacklustre that his game completely belied the many weeks of expectation of adoring fans.

He played as though he might easily miss the cut and benefit all the bookies.

He sprayed his tee shots all over and on par 5s could muster only pars when eagles and birdies were required; without being significantly under par on these accessible par 5s, there can be no chance of winning.


Augusta National demands patience above all and leavens the resultant rewards with carefully calibrated risks.

Most of the players are good enough to win this tournament, but those who push the course too hard, or take things for granted, are likely to take the weekend off.

As it is with only 87 participants and the weekend field expected to be just about half that number, Woods certainly threatens to be in that territory.

He redeemed himself somewhat in the closing holes on Thursday; to win, he will have to score rounds of at least 66 on each of the succeeding days.

Risk-reward on this course is dangerously disguised.

Sergio Garcia experienced this on the par five 15th hole when his easy but not good third shot landed on the edge of the green and spun back into the water.

He could still have made par by taking a drop and then making a relatively easy up and down; however, he created history by hitting a total of four perfect shots to just above the pin to find each of them spinning back into the water.

The patrons were horrified that the fates should treat the defending champion this way; but the fates are not without irony.

He unwittingly (obviously) scored 13 on this easy par 5, the highest ever on the 15th, and also joined the ranks of those few who had scored 13 on any hole at Augusta National, thus creating history!

Tiger Woods

IMAGE: Tommy Fleetwood of England, Marc Leishman of Australia and Tiger Woods. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images

Earlier, Leishman, firing on all cylinders in all aspects of his game, went a little over the same easy 15th hole green with his second (hoping to position himself for an eagle), but then chipped a little aggressively and found the water below the hole to score a double.

He is playing very well indeed and if he is in the mix on Day 4, one hopes his hands don't jam.

The later pairings of the day appear to score better with Jordan Spieth leading the field by two shots.

Having been visited by severe misfortune a couple of years ago when he twice fell into Rae's Creek (one of the four praetorian guards of the 12th hole pivot of Amen Corner, the others being strategically placed bunkers, the inviting Azalea beds just beyond and, of course a narrow, lateral running green) he knows that there are 54 more holes to play and anything can happen.

Ian Poulter would agree as, having scored an unsatisfactory one over in the first round of the Houston Open a week ago, he ended up winning the tournament.

Spieth knows not to get ahead of himself on this course as, although he is looking tough to beat, there is sufficient history of huge leads evaporating with just a wayward shot or two.

Before the start of play, the odds on Tiger Woods had already shifted with Jordan Spieth being the new favourite with the bookies.

That position was further underlined with Spieth now being the firm favourite after his 66 and Woods being relegated to 20:1 with many of those in red numbers in between.

As expected, there is a huge bunching of extraordinary talent within four shots of the lead.

Rory McIlroy is looking very, very, good and focused to complete his tryst with destiny to join the very few who have won a career grand slam.

I guess his next ambition would be to win a 'Tiger Slam' which is to hold all four slam titles at the same time.

Because of his prodigious length off the tee, his exciting courage and boldness, and his peaking at just the right time, he is the one to watch.

Matt Kuchar is looking exceptionally good in his usual understated way; he has often challenged at the Masters before and will be a serious contender this year as well.

He, sort of, comes in a bit under the radar, and should he be a real possibility in the final nine, the shouts of "Koooch" from appreciative patrons will rend the air.

Last year's champion Garcia is out of the race for sure (unless he shoots a record breaking 62 on the Friday and then repeats that on the weekend); Justin Rose who had lost to him in last year's playoff, birdied the 18th to reach level par and to indicate his clear intent of rectifying last year's Green Jacket being virtually ripped off his shoulders.

And, of course, Phil Mickelson is very much in the running for his own tryst with destiny.

Despite the fact that the playing conditions were sunny and perfect with not much wind, there were only 20 out of 87 players who shot under par.

The greens were faster than during the practice rounds and the pin positions such that really low scoring was difficult.

On Sunday they will be even more strategically located where precise placement of approach shots will be rewarded and anything even a foot or two off may drift 60 to 70 feet away into three putt territory.

The stage is being set by the puppeteers according to the script that is written by the ultimate dramatist.

He (she) will weigh and measure each man's worthiness and determine how the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune might evade the selected winner.

That gauntlet, through which all challengers must pass, is being prepared even as we retire for the night.

The second act is tomorrow; there will be many side stories to the main one which will certainly exclude half this field.

Wait and see.

Masters 2018: Patrick Reed leads with brilliant 66, Tiger Woods appears to be unmatchable

Sergio Garcia

IMAGE: Sergio Garcia walks to the 18th green. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

People used to say that the main golf shop at Augusta National was always overcrowded during the Masters week and that despite the uniqueness of the merchandise and the deep Southern courtesy with which the sales assistants guide patrons, one felt that one was in a standing-room-only railway carriage.

So, they decided to virtually triple the size of the shop and allowed for much better movement of people and had several more checkout counters. Guess what? This much bigger shop feels exactly the same as earlier.

The crowds have increased, the merchandise (now marked up another few per cent) is flying off the shelves and the little satellite shops scattered across the course hardly take the pressure off.

The whole enterprise of the Masters is the ultimate in branding. They have rules that many think are unconventional and unnecessary, they treat badly behaved patrons (spectators) on the course with extreme prejudice, the barriers to entry restrict access by numbers to the facilities to create exclusivity for these ten days (whereas access to all other golf events is unrestricted), and yet this is the most coveted golf event on the planet ever and creates more wealth for the enterprise and the community than any other event.

It is unmatchable. This does not happen automatically or by accident; it requires acute attention to detail, members of the club who think similarly, and the ability to elect committees and officials who not only are highly competent but are also able to contribute their time virtually 24/7.

Tiger Woods also appears to be unmatchable in appeal, even when he does not play well as at this year's Masters.

Certainly, the most recognised name in the world (not only as an athlete but also as an act of god), Pawan Munjal has sponsored him, and might well do it again after the present contract is over, to help brand his motorcycles and scooters around the world, wherever the impact of Tiger is felt.

Pawan not only sponsors Tiger but also golf and golfers like no other corporate.

When golf takes off in a major way, the corporates and governments will come tumbling after, but it is in the nascent stages that the sport and the players need the support. He, and a notable few, are there for that.

Shubhankar Sharma, the 21-year-old special invitee to the Masters, acknowledged the various influences in the development of his golfing prowess and this, he was happy to say, included the effect of the junior training programme sponsored by Usha/Mawana.

While he did not make the cut, he was cheerful about it, in his rather humble and inimitable way, saying that he had learned much and his efforts in the coming year would be to qualify for playing here.

Anything can happen (as Jordan said on Friday), and it did.

He doubled the first, dropped another on the birdieable second and turned the corner at +4.

It was remarkable to see him steady the leaky ship in quite windy conditions and pull a couple back to stay well within the mix.

Jordan's two shots into the drink at Rae's Creek two years ago were markedly different from Sergio's history making 13 on the 15th this year.

Jordan's were just two very bad shots with his arms flying out like chicken wings; Sergio's first shot, had it travelled just another two feet would have left him with a tap in eagle, and were it one foot shorter it would not have spun back into the water. He hit the perfect shot, but one that would get him wet.

His subsequent four shots were all brilliant and they all landed level or above the pin to spin back into the water.

He said he did not know what happened or what he could have done, at that point, differently. That's the Masters... last year's winner is this year’s laggard, coming last.

But, for sure, Sergio is down, but not out.

Friday the wind was blowing, all over the place.

Some holes there were two or three winds in the space of one shot; one as you struck the ball, another as the direction turned a 180 degrees, and a third when the wind suddenly stopped, causing a sort of wind shear (often fatal in the early years of aviation) that could drop your ball into water, or bunkers or carry them over greens into appreciative crowds.

All this was evident on Saturday and basically all players were effected except a handful who were fortunate to play their shots when conditions had momentarily subsided. These things happen.

Marc Leishman has been most consistent over the last two days and should this form continue over the weekend, he will be the one to beat.

Even so, it is only half way now and anything can happen!

Anyone making the cut can win and Tiger has just squeaked through to make the cut.... had he missed, so would have several patrons and, of course, the television ratings.

With Sunday's predicted wet conditions and Sunday's dry and warm weather, the change of weather might well predicate a change of fortunes for many players.

Who knows?

The reversal of leadership positions indicates the addition of further warp to the weft of the fabric being woven on which will be written the third of four acts on Saturday.

Watch out, as the tension builds.

Siddharth Shriram
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