THE WIND was up and the greens were drying out by the minute throughout yesterday, but golf’s finest still made Augusta National look anything like the fearsome challenge it has been over the past two or three years.
Current American Ryder Cup players Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry cruised to the top of the leaderboard on nine under par after respective rounds of 67 and 70, but it was another of the US stars last September, Anthony Kim, who stole the limelight.
Having started the day on two over par, the 23 year-old Californian went on the rampage, shooting eleven birdies in a staggering round of 65 that also included three bogeys.
One should never write off Tiger Woods, but it is now looking extremely unlikely that he will depart tomorrow evening with a fifth green jacket and his 15th major championship. He has been unable to do better than scores of 70 and 72 for two under, and hasn’t looked particularly comfortable over the opening two days.
Moreover, he has once or twice resorted to a sometimes familiar tendency to spit when things were not going as well as he would like. Given that the television cameras are on him from the first time he walks on the golf course, this is all the more regrettable, and to my mind it is surprising that the game’s rulers haven’t introduced an edict that would bring Woods and whoever else indulges in the practice to book.
Unlike Rory McIlroy, Woods did exchange a few words with pressmen but his replies were almost monosyllabic.
“I thought the wind was pretty difficult all the way around, not only is it blowing but it’s also changing and you can go pretty much go through a three club swing,” he stated.
“Over the weekend, I’ve got to play a little better and make a few putts and clean up my round. I had a few more putts today but still didn’t make enough. I left a few shots out there to be sure.”
Asked if he could breach the seven shot gap between himself and Perry and Campbell, Woods growled: “It’s doable, yeah.”
The Masters could do with a player of Tiger’s stature considering the top of the leader board isn’t designed to set the pulses racing. Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry are pleasant, personable men but they aren’t exactly over endowed with charisma.
A native of Andrews, Texas, Campbell tied 3rdh at the 2006 Masters and obviously feels very much at home at Augusta. Having shot 65 in Thursday’s far more benign conditions in spite of finishing with two bogeys, Campbell put up a very brave battle yesterday and finished in style at the 18th where an aggressive looking putt hit the back of the cup and dropped in.
“It was a nice way to finish, the ball was moving pretty good so I’m glad it hit the hole although I suppose that’s what it is there for,” he smiled. “I feel good and looking forward to the weekend but like I said last night, there’s still a lot of golf left to be played.”
Given that the likes of Mike Weir, Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman have departed Augusta with the green jacket in the recent past, there is no apparent reason why Campbell or indeed Perry shouldn’t stay out in front.
Perry, 48, missed the cut on five out of his eight previous visits to the Masters and has never finished better than 12th in 1995. He also birdied the 18th as the finale to a splendid round of 67.
“I’ve driven it beautifully all day,” he exulted. “I came right out of the gate with a birdie and that loosened me up and it’s just been wonderful. I was able to choose the right club at the right time and execute the right shot. That’s the secret out there. I feel like I can win. I’ve already won this year and three times last year and everything is running right on schedule.”
Todd Hamilton, the shock winner of the 2004 Open Championship, has done little or nothing over the intervening years and indeed was ranked 373rd in the world before this week began.
To everyone’s surprise, including his own, he is up there with the best of them after rounds of 68 and 70 for six under par.
“No, I probably wasn’t expecting anything like this,” he admitted. “On paper, my year has not been that great. Not counting this event, I made two out of nine cuts. But it wasn’t to the point where I was losing all hope.
“You know, I may have had some 74s and 75s, but a drive five yards left here, five yards right there, a couple of times during the round, and those 74s and 75s could have been even pars, a few putts here and there, also. So on paper, it doesn’t look very good, but it wasn’t to the point where I was going to quit playing the game.”
South African Tim Clark seemed to have undone all the good work of Thursday’s 68 when he fell back to even par for the tournament after 12, before he also demonstrated that Augusta can be tamed by playing the last six in five under to stand just four out of the lead.
Meanwhile, Padraig Harrington, out in the third last match of the day, was struggling to cope with a capricious wind that was growing in strength all the time.
He was two over for his round, one under for the tournament, through 11 holes.
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