Augusta National Was the Big Winner on a Brutal Masters Friday

April 8, 2016

AUGUSTA — Bubba Watson exhaled as he emerged from the back of Augusta National’s clapboard clubhouse. After signing for a second-consecutive 75, the two-time champion was in danger of missing the weekend session in this 80th Masters.

Watson, red in the cheeks, wore his visor high pushed back high on his brow. He looked like he could use a hug, and that’s what he got. Waiting for him down the slope from the famed old oak was his agent Jens Beck, who greeted Watson with a warm embrace.

“This is the toughest conditions I’ve seen this golf course,” said Watson, who ended up making the six-over cut on the number. “The golf course just beat me.”

That was a common refrain from the field on a wind-whipped Friday at Augusta, and not only among the players who were sent packing. “We’re just trying to survive out there,” said world No. 1 Jason Day after a 73 that included a back-nine 39. “It feels like a U.S. Open.”

The leader board showed it.

The field scoring average was more than three over par (75.02), and the course allowed just 230 birdies and two eagles. In the second round a year ago the field converted 311 birdies and 17 eagles. That explains why Augusta felt and sounded more like a mausoleum on Friday than a major venue.

Virtually the only roars — well, Rors — on the premises was Rory McIlroy, who birdied two of his first three holes, then promptly cooled off with bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5. He eventually signed for a one-under 71, which on most days would be shrugged off as a ho-hum effort by a player of his caliber. On Friday it was the low round of the day, matched by Dustin Johnson and Masters rookie Troy Merritt.

McIlroy’s caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, knew just what his man was up against. “Pars are good,” he repeatedly chirped at McIlroy. “Keep making pars.”

Seventy-three players finished the round over par versus 56 on Thursday. Among them was the easily agitated Englishman Ian Poulter, who after a six-over 78 gamely spoke about his Augusta beat-down.

“I got what I deserved,” he deadpanned, “and that’s a right kick in the nuts.”

Poulter said he knew he was in for a long day when a strong gale swatted back his his opening tee shot. “It just hit a brick wall,” he said.

At the devilish par-3 12th, which on the calmest of days can wreak havoc on club selection, Poulter said he struggled to pull the trigger. Picking the right club complicated the assignment, Poulter said, but so did “picking the right wind.” Alas, he airmailed the green but managed to get up and down for his par.

Rickie Fowler spotted his ball “shaking” over some of his putts.

Day struggled with some of his reads. “There’s not too many times where I’m standing on a golf course and you have to aim a putt for wind,” he said. “And then other parts when you’re kind of hidden, you don’t feel the wind at all. So, it’s really hard to commit to a lot of the golf shots out there.”

“Brutal,” was how the steely Yorkshireman, Danny Willett, described the conditions — and as a Brit he is accustomed to playing in a breeze. “The course is tough enough at the best of times.”

Here’s more bad news for the 57 players who advanced to the weekend: the Saturday forecast calls for more wind, with gusts of up to 25 mph.

Hold on to your hats, boys and girls, this Masters could get interesting.