Masters Part 3

Masters Part 3a

Now that the first two days are over, the real tournament can get underway. Half of the golfers competing in the Masters have been eliminated, because they did not survive the “cut.” Most tournaments do this — they start with a whole bunch of players, and based on the cumulative two-day scores, a cut line is determined. If your score is higher than this line, sorry, Charlie, you have to go home. The rest of the players then compete for prize money, prestige, sponsorship, rankings and T-shirts.

At the Masters, they started with about a hundred players, and now there is about fifty. After two days, at the top of the leaderboard is the young Irishman, Rory McIlroy, who looks like someone out of a Mark Twain story.  He’s tall and thin and has a great smile. Instead of waving a paint brush at picket fences he is waving his magic putter on the way to a score of ten under par.

Masters Part 3b

As my wife noted elsewhere, Saturday is known on the PGA Tour as “moving day.” That does not mean that U-Haul vans are used, but that players are more aggressive on the course, and are trying to jump up much higher on the leaderboard. The great Bobby Jones, founder of the Masters, won a lot of tournaments by battling, not with any two-legged opponents, but with what he called Old Man Par. It didn’t matter what an adversary did; what mattered was the scorecard.

On the first two days of a tournament, players are trying to make the cut, and so generally play somewhat conservatively, trying to avoid making big mistakes. Hitting fairways and the middle of greens won’t hurt you, and if your putter is in a friendly mood, then some birdie putts will drop. Going for the heroic shots can put you in deep bunkers, in the water, or in the azalea bushes, in which case you may never be seen again. (One day I’ll tell you about balls I hit into gorse at St Andrews, balls that were never seen again.)

So moving day is when players reappraise the risk/return ratio and dial it up. Instead of laying up on par 5 holes like they did on Thursday and Friday, on Saturday they eat their spinach and go for it. (Interesting that golf has remained free from the steroid scandals endured by baseball and football; this week was the perjury trial — the result of steroid use — of the Exhalted One, Barry Bonds.) More risky tee shots are taken, bolder approach shots to greens are attempted, in spite of the protection provided by trees, bunkers, streams, ponds and devious contours on fast greens.

Tiger Woods, who has won here in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005, usually moves up the leaderboard on Saturdays like an express elevator. On this Saturday, however, he shot a 2-over 74, moving down to 6 under for the tournament. Rory McIlroy, the just-barely-of-legal-drinking-age leader on Thursday and Friday, shot a 2-under 70, and moved to twelve under par for the tournament.

The final round on Sunday looks to be an exciting, gut-wrenching contest, between young guns who lack experience but not talent, and older, more seasoned veterans who have won at Augusta before. I know precisely where on the couch I’ll be sitting.

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