AUGUSTA, G a . — The devil went down to Georgia on Friday and brought an evil wind with him.
The result was a Masters leader board at the halfway point that looks like it was imported from a U.S. Open, with the red numbers being drained off it like Count Dracula in search of a midnight snack.
Eagles? Birdies? They were gone with the wind that raked Augusta National Golf Club all day long, blowing sand out of bunkers, blowing the little white dots off Smylie Kaufman’s golf shirt (almost) and scraping nerves bare.
How tough was it? Former University High golfer Patrick Reed finished double bogey-bogey to drop to 5-over and still made the cut by a stroke to spare.
How tough was it? At a course known for players being able to go low, no one broke 70 for the first time since the colder and even windier 2007 Masters.
How tough was it? Two-time champion Bubba Watson was basically giving a farewell address mid-afternoon after his second-straight 75, thinking he had missed the cut by a mile at 6-over. Turned out he made it right on the number as he actually beat the day’s scoring average by 0.022 strokes.
“We were trying to adjust with ever-gusting and changing winds,” said Jordan Spieth, who sounded less like someone leading the Masters for a record sixth straight round and more like someone who just went six rounds with Manny Pacquiao. “It was just a really difficult day to score.”
Lee Westwood concurred.
“Yeah, brutally hard out there,” he said.
So did Adam Scott.
“It was very tough conditions,” he said. “Probably tougher than yesterday. The greens have gotten dry and firm, and it’s hard to control the golf ball out there.”
And Phil Mickelson, well, he said Phil things.
“I thought it was a very fair test,” he said. “The greens were receptive. The pins were fine.”
Soon after saying that, Phil was slamming his trunk after missing the cut. Maybe someone should put Phil in the trunk.
At least Mickelson can go home and rest and not have to be buffeted by the winds Saturday, unless he decides to spend his off day riding with the top down on his convertible.
For those who love their birdies in bunches when watching the year’s biggest tournament, this is not your Masters. This is more like Sam Snead or Jimmy Demaret’s Masters.
Don’t like the tough conditions? Tough. Hey, this is a major championship. Major championships are supposed to be hard. Hard to win. Hard to play. And Mother Nature and the lords of Augusta conspired to make this day a migraine-inducing mind trip for those men who dream of hanging a green jacket in their closet.
The year after Johnny Miller shot his legendary final-round 63 to win the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont, they had the “massacre at Winged Foot.” Hale Irwin won with a score of 7-over. The greens were so hard that someone drove over one in the dark and didn’t leave a mark. (True story.) The rough was so high, Lee Trevino was lost for three days afterward.
Last year, Spieth tied Tiger Woods’ Masters scoring record at 18-under 270, winning by four yawn-inducing shots over Mickelson and Justin Rose. The course seemed a little soft then.
Not this week.
There was even some rain during the early-morning hours Thursday and Friday. Good thing. During Friday’s round, the wind and sun were drying out the greens on top, and the SubAir systems (think giant golf vacuums) were drying them out below.
The result was a collection of 18 green-colored bricks, which coincidentally you can buy in the enormous gift shops here.
Then there were the pin placements, which put the “D” in diabolical.
“There were pins today where you’ve got a (buried) elephant in the middle of the green and there’s a hole over the top of it,” said Kaufman, the former LSU golfer who finds himself squarely in contention in his first Masters at 1-over. “You have to hit to your spots here on every hole. There’s a spot you need to be in. If you don’t hit that spot, you’re just in recovery mode trying to make par.”
Not everything that got tossed around by the conditions was bad. We still have Spieth, the world No. 2 and defending Masters champion, and Rory McIlroy, the world No. 3 seeking to complete the career grand slam, paired together for the first time in the final group of a major championship. And there’s a talented leader board with the likes of Brandt Snedeker, Sergio Garcia, world No. 1 Jason Day and quirky amateur Bryson DeChambeau (he has names for all of his irons, which all have the same-length shafts) all lurking within five strokes of the lead.
Saturday’s conditions could be just as challenging, as the wind is expected to again blow with no more rain in sight.
It’s not your typical Masters, but hopefully we will have the typical Masters drama.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.