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Friday, Bloody Friday - Axe Falls on Big Names at 2014 Masters
There weren't broken bottles under children's feet, nor bodies strewn across a dead-end street, but with apologies to U2, it was Friday, Bloody Friday, as many of golf's biggest stars missed the cut at the 78th Masters.
Erstwhile world No. 1 Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson and former major champions Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson and Webb Simpson - with four green jackets and 12 major titles between them - all missed the cut in a bloodletting more graphic than the Hostel, Final Destination, and Halloween franchises combined.
Even dual-major champion Rory McIlroy had to sweat out a final putt on 18 to make the cut by a single stroke.
Friday the 11th looked more like Friday the 13th.
The triage left Bubba Watson alone at the top of the leaderboard at 7-under, three shots clear of Australian John Senden, and a logjam of players at 3-under that includes defending champion Adam Scott, Rookie of the Year Jordan Spieth, and rising star, Sweden's Jonas Blixt.
Watson rode a five-consecutive birdie stretch on the back nine to surge into the lead, playing holes 12-16 in 2-4-3-4-2, surpassing even the four successive birdies he carded from 13-16 in the final round of 2012 when he caught Louis Oosthuizen, then snatched away the green jacket from the South African in a playoff.
"I guessed the wind right on the stretch of holes on the back nine there," Watson deadpanned humbly, being his usual, affable and grateful self.
Now Hubba Bubba stands halfway to his second Masters' title. But his work is not done. Though many marquee names will be trading in their "apparel scripts" for sweats, T-shirts and flip-flops while they watch on TV, it's still a long way to the Butler Cabin.
Several names are lurking dangerously. With back-nine charges on Sunday encouraged by the tournament committee, this Masters is still up for grabs by anyone within six shots.
That's the magic number by the way; only Jackie Burke in 1956 came from further back than six strokes at the halfway point.
The most dangerous name on the leaderboard is Adam Scott. The defending champion opened with a solid 69, but gave away three strokes to par on the front nine, and looked to be scrambling just to tread water at even-par before he did what Masters champions do - turn it on at the back nine, especially the par-5s. He birdied 12 - the pint-sized terror playing as the second-hardest hole on the course - as well as the three-shot 13 and 15 to power back into contention.
"I hit two really quality shots on the ninth that felt like the best swings I had made to that point. I wanted to keep that feeling for the back nine," Scott explained. "I played a really good back nine. It was really solid." The surge gave him a hard-earned even-par 72 to keep him at 3-under for the tournament and stay within reach of Watson.
Scott will be paired with popular 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who is turning the old adage of "rookies get schooled at Augusta" on its ear. After opening with a 71 on Thursday, Spieth birdied the par-5 eighth, then eagled the 15th to get to 3-under for the tournament. Though he gave a shot back at 17 with an indifferent three-putt, he electrified the gallery with a closing birdie at the home hole to get to the house in 70.
With a clever, gutsy shot more akin to that of a wily veteran than a grateful rookie, Spieth launched a 7-iron 30 feet past the pin on 18, then sucked it back to 2 feet, made the putt and rode a wave of adoration from the gallery that was heard all the way to Texas. Hook 'em Horns, indeed!
Still, everyone's job is made easier now that five former major champions with four Masters between them are on the sidelines for the weekend. "I keep making these triples, which are tough to overcome," lamented Mickelson, who flailed in the woods, chipped over greens, and three-putted from short distances over the two days to sink deeper and deeper into the nether-reaches of the leaderboard.
"It's tough, but I just made some silly errors here and there," groused Els. "I'm actually driving it well, doing a lot of things well, but, yeah, just getting in my own way here and there. I missed some putts, missed some iron shots here and there."
Sergio was much more laconic. "It was windy," he said succinctly.
Serge, you sound like Helen Hunt in the movie "Twister."
So, with moving day Saturday, it's up to Bubba - Mr. "I've never had a lesson" and "I just close my eyes and putt" himself! - to try to get enough distance between himself and the pack if he wants to clinch a second green jacket and secure another trip to the PGA Grand Slam of Golf . . . where he can graffiti the pictures again.
You remember? When much to the horror of PGA officials he "signed the Mona Lisa with a spray can and called it art?" (Actually, he put a devil beard on Padraig Harrington, drew a uni-brow and handle-bar mustache on Webb Simpson, and made himself look like a greasy matted-haired geek with string warts. But it's the same thing.)
The key will be greens in regulation. Eight of the last 11 winners were top-five in GIR for the week. (Cabrera, Schwartzel and Immelman are the exceptions, for those of you scoring at home.) Bubba hit 14 greens Thursday, but at two of them he was able to putt.
"I missed one by 6 inches and the other by 3 feet," he stated. On Friday, he again hit 14, meaning he's playing consistent golf and getting good looks at the hole. "I'm just trying to hit greens," he said. "If I can hit greens, that means I've hit good tee shots and I hit good iron shots, and just trying to make par from there and throw in a birdie here and there."
What was it my old law school professor said? "Keep it simple." That way you hang around for the weekend.
Still, for some missing the weekend wasn't all that bad. Perhaps Graeme DeLaet best exemplified the good feelings and camaraderie of this year's Masters.
After an 80-72 and a missed cut, the Canadian said, "It's still the best week of my life."
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma 's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay has played over 420 nationally ranked public golf courses in 40 different states, and covered seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships, along with one trip to the Masters. A four-time award-winning sportswriter, Jay was called the best sports poet alive by both Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports writers and broadcasters. Jay has played about 3 million yards of golf - or close to 2,000 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf, PGA.com, Golf Magazine and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.
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