By JIM LITKE
It’s peak 2020 that even the Masters is being forced to slow-walk the results. According to the schedule, we’ve reached the halfway point of the tournament … except roughly half the field has yet to arrive.
So pay close attention. Here’s what we know so far:
There have already been plenty of spills (looking at you, Bryson DeChambeau), but the thrills (Tiger Woods still in the hunt) may just be beginning. Based on the soft conditions over the first two days and the completed scorecards turned in, this championship is on pace to smash some records.
The strong play was evident at the top of the leaderboard, where no less than four players — established stars Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, plus lesser-knowns Cameron Smith and Abraham Ancer — shared the lead at 9 under. But the battles for the prime slots below are every bit as competitive.
There were another four golfers at 8 under, including two, Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm, who will finish up Round 2 on Saturday morning with more than enough holes to steal the lead. And talk about traffic: There’s another five golfers at 7-under, three of whom also have a shot at the top slot by the time everyone in the field tees off for Round 3 today.
As if that wasn’t excitement enough, in addition to the 44-year-old Woods (4 under, with nine holes to finish), fellow aging titan Phil Mickelson (5 under) is also in the mix.
“I’m driving like a stallion,” said Mickelson, a three-time champion making his first go-round at Augusta National since turning 50 in June. “I’m going to make a run.”
If so, Lefty won’t be the only one.
The green jackets who run the Masters knew moving the tournament from April to November meant ceding some control. For one, thing, they were losing three hours of daylight and for another, messing with Mother Nature is much tougher in autumn than spring.
For most of Friday, there was an audible hum as greenkeepers cranked up the motors of the course’s sub-air system to pull moisture out of the soft turf above and make the fairways and greens firmer and faster. It was a mostly futile effort, in large part because of thunderstorms that soaked the place and delayed the start of Round 1 on Thursday by nearly three hours.
“I think it can firm up a little bit, but it’s going to be tough for it to get firm,” Johnson said. “I think it’s going to be soft enough to where you’re going to have to attack the golf course and play aggressive and keep swinging like I am. I like where I’m at.”
He’s got plenty of company. The scoring average for Round 1 — which wasn’t wrapped up until Friday morning — settled at 71.41, the lowest ever at the Masters. The average for Round 2 was an even-lower 71.26, though we won’t know where that finishes until the stragglers reach the clubhouse Saturday morning. The cut line, projected to be even par, would set yet another record.
In a nice bit of serendipity, DeChambeau, the pre-tournament favorite, will have to live up to that billing just to make the cut. He was at 1 over through 12 holes when darkness halted play Friday, still reeling from a triple-bogey 7 at the 350-yard, par-4 third.
DeChambeau arrived at this year’s Masters some 40 pounds beefier than in his 2019 appearance, packing muscle on his 6-foot-1 frame in a bid to launch tee shots past the bunkers and over the corners that make up a big part of Augusta’s defenses. After all, that strategy worked to near-perfection when he tore up Winged Foot to win the U.S. Open in September.
DeChambeau even humble-bragged that his personal par at Augusta was 67, instead of the 72 stamped at the bottom of the scorecard. Thus far, however, his ambitions have outstripped his aim.
Despite some detours, DeChambeau managed to salvage a very respectable 70 in Round 1. Hardly chastened, though, he tried to drive the No. 3 green again in Round 2. His tee shot found a muddy stretch well left of the fairway, but after a search he couldn’t find the ball. Driven back to the tee in a golf cart, DeChambeau sent his second attempt to almost the same spot and wound up making 7. He bogeyed the next two holes, turning the rest of his round into a desperate rescue effort.
Afterward, Rahm, one of his playing partners, was asked whether he was involved in the search for DeChambeau’s wayward tee shot at the third. His reply neatly summed up DeChambeau’s rough going so far.