After 36 holes, Tiger Woods trails leader Trevor Immelman by seven strokes. But the cynic in me wants to say that Tiger is four behind the real leader, Phil Mickelson. I admit, that’s not giving Trevor his due, because he has the game to win at Augusta. But he needs help from Phil and Tiger. Immelman hasn’t yet experienced how, for the leaders, the atmosphere changes at Augusta on weekends. The pressure can be suffocating. Brandt Snedeker, a stroke off the lead, could also have trouble today. I’m not sure he can stay near the lead. This stage is too big. On Saturday, you often see guys come back to the pack, and see past winners move up, so Phil is in a great spot. At three strokes back, he’s the only player among the top eight with a green jacket (or two) to his name. He’s the real leader.
• Tiger hasn’t made a putt in two days, and his game looks like it’s ready to explode. He could make up a lot of ground today. I’m not saying they’ll be in the last group together, but if Tiger shoots something in the 60s, there’s a good chance it could come down to Phil and Tiger on Sunday.
• So why is Tiger “only” one under? This is still golf, and he’s still human. Even Woods can want something so much that he may try too hard. Snedeker is like a kid on a playground here, but for Tiger it’s more serious, and maybe harder to stay loose. He wants it so much. For him, only four events matter every year.
• That up-and-down Tiger made on the 18th hole from the 10th fairway was simply otherwordly. You’d never see a shot like that in another major, but here at Augusta, if you hit it crooked, you might still have a look at the hole. Tiger’s par was superhuman. As I’ve said before, my flabber was completely gasted.
• It was tough watching what happened to Justin Rose on 15, but that’s Augusta. This course never surrenders. It’s relentless. It gives you no breathers, not for a single swing. Rose hung in and hung in and then … holy crap! That’s the thing about the par-5 15th — if you make par, you think, “Hell, I should have made 4.” Yeah, well, you can also make 8, like Justin. He handled it well, and I hope he bounces back this weekend. He’s the best European player, a fabulous talent with a game made to win the green jacket.
• Finally, I must applaud the young amateur Michael Thompson for his honorable actions on the 15th green yesterday, when he called a penalty on himself. It was on a birdie putt, and Michael, at four over par, was two shots ahead of the low amateur in the clubhouse and had a good shot at making the cut. He addressed his ball and saw it move the length of one dimple. No one watching would have noticed this — we had to blow up the image on TV to see it — but Michael noticed, and he immediately called a one-stroke penalty on himself. No hesitation. It was the right thing to do, and not everyone would have done the same. He made a bogey, followed by two more on 16 and 17, and missed the cut at seven over. Michael may have cost himself the low-amateur’s medallion and a seat in Butler Cabin on Sunday, but you can’t put a price on a clear conscience.