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Friday, April 12, 2013
Augusta National strikes back


AUGUSTA, Ga., -- On Friday afternoon, as a 1-shot penalty for slow play threatened to keep 14-year-old Tianlang Guan from making the cut, a watch commenced to see if the tough conditions at Augusta National could keep the controversial ruling from staining the tournament.

The wind, the sinister pin locations and devilish greens on the Alister MacKenzie-designed gem needed to help the game avert perhaps an international embarrassment.

As the players trickled in from their rounds, sidestepping the growing chaos around Guan near the Augusta clubhouse, there was assurance from players that there was hope that the kid would make it into the weekend through the top 50 and ties or the 10-shot rule. After a 75 on Friday, Guan was 4 over for the tournament.

Four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods was playing the front nine, where he had started the day 2-under par. It wouldn't have been a stretch to see him shoot a 65 or 66 that would have sent the youngster home before the weekend.

"It ain't going to happen," Bo Van Pelt said of someone getting to 7 under par. "It's really tough out there."

Van Pelt knew because he hadn't played poorly in his 2-over 74 on Thursday. He shot a 64 in the final round last year at Augusta to finish in a tie for 17th. The year before he had come close to winning on Sunday.

Jason Day
Jason Day battled tough wind conditions all day to grab a 1-shot lead heading into the weekend.

Adam Scott provided more assurance that Tiger wouldn't dismantle Augusta's usually vulnerable par-5s.

Scott, who didn't have a birdie on the par-5s on Friday, had come in after shooting an even-par 72 to finish 3 under at the halfway point.

"I would love to play the par-5s a little better, but today they were playing tough ... all of them," he said. "From [No.] 15, 13 into the wind, [No.] 8 is kind of into the wind and across, and [No.] 2 is even into the wind off the tee. It makes them tougher and I didn't take advantage of them.

"Even par in these conditions is a good score. Everything was thrown at us, and the pins are really tough, it's easy to make mistakes."

Players all around the course were saying the same thing. Some early showers had softened the course, but then the wind picked up. Yet it was blowing in a different direction than it had been during the practice rounds and on Thursday.

Dustin Johnson, with a 4-over 40 on the second nine, was tormented by the tough conditions.

Sergio Garcia provided more insight after shooting 76 on Friday, a score few could have imagined after his bogey-free 66 on Thursday.

"It was not only the strength of the wind, because if it's consistent you kind of figure it out, but unfortunately today it was very, very gusty," Garcia said.

"There were some shots that you would hit well and it would make you look a little bit silly, like what happened to me on [No.] 15, I hit a great 3-iron.

"It's almost dead calm when Angel [Cabrera] and Adam [Scott] were hitting. I hit mine, I hit what I thought was a perfect shot to the middle of the green and caught a huge gust and unfortunately it comes up short into the water."

Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, is sitting pretty after a 71 in his second round, yet he was mystified and at times made hopeless by the conditions on Friday.

"It feels like even your good shots you're not getting rewarded," said the 53-year-old Seattle native playing in his 29th Masters. "I hit a great shot on [No.] 18 and we were playing the wind left to right and it turns more downwind and we're on the top shelf, and now you're struggling to make [par]. There's nothing you really can do about that."

Friday, Mother Nature and Augusta National worked together for the good of the game. No matter the opinions on slow play and the righteousness of the 1-shot penalty, everyone wanted to see the kid play into the weekend.

Realistically, by late afternoon Marc Leishman, Woods and Jason Day were the only players with a chance of ending Guan's week.

Leishman was the first to succumb to the difficult conditions.

Tied for the lead with Garcia coming into the second round, the 29-year-old Australian went into the back nine even par for the day, but then his momentum stalled at Amen Corner.

"It was blowing hard at the left on [No.] 13 where you have to hit a big hook around the corner," Leishman said. "And 15, what's generally reasonably reachable, it's blowing straight in. So probably only the longer hitters can get there today and it made -- I guess you would call them the birdie holes -- not really legitimate."

Then there was Tiger, always unpredictable and capable of flurries of brilliance that defy the imagination. After shooting 33 on the front nine to get to 5 under, he couldn't summon a single birdie on the back nine, ending up with a 1-under 71 and 3-under total for the tournament.

"I really swung the club well and didn't really get a lot out of this round," Woods said. "Granted, these conditions were tough. It was swirling all over the place."

Playing in the final group in the afternoon, Day still had a chance to get to 7 under with a birdie on the par-4 18th. But after hitting his drive left into the fairway bunker, he couldn't convert the birdie.

The kid was going to be all right. Guan had made the cut on the 10-shot rule. He still needs to play faster, but the maddening conditions at Augusta National had saved his 1-shot penalty from tarnishing his historic appearance at the Masters.

It was a stressful five hours or so between the end of Guan's round and the completion of Day's. In real time, the golf world potentially nearly collapsed around the issue of slow play. Then in an instant, it turned to the celebration of a boy's survival of a test way beyond his grasp.

Augusta National, which will outlast any controversy, made it so with its enduring ability to confound the best players in the world.