AUGUSTA, Ga. — First they spanked a 14-year-old with a slow-play penalty. Then they punished the rest of the field with devilish pin positions that made scoring tougher than a college entrance exam.
It was detention time Friday at the Augusta National Golf Club, and most of the pupils felt the wrath of Masters officials.
Maybe the folks in the Augusta National clubhouse didn’t like Phil Mickelson saying their tournament was turning into a birdie-fest. Maybe that’s the reason they tucked pins, got some help from a swirling, whipping wind, and watched some of the best players in the world tumble like paper cups from the leaderboard.
“For some reason, when Phil said what he said, I knew it was going to be tough,” said Jason Day of Australia.
But it didn’t bother Day, 25, a one-time winner on the PGA Tour who made four birdies in his final nine holes to jump to the top of the leaderboard at 6-under 138.
It didn’t bother Fred Couples, who has the same 139 score he had last year when he was the 36-hole leader.
And it didn’t bother two-time major champion Angel Cabrera, who made five birdies in the final six holes and is two shots from the lead.
“It’s a hard course out there,” said Couples, who shot 71 and is tied with Australian Marc Leishman (73), the first-round co-leader. “I felt very good about what I shot. The golf course is winning today.”
Day, who finished tied for second in his first Masters appearance in 2011, had the day’s low round — a 4-under 68 that included back-to-back birdies at Nos. 10 and 11.
He even managed to overcome a watered tee shot at the par-3 12th, squeezing out a bogey and bouncing right back with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 13th.
“We were out there almost six hours, and it was very, very difficult,” Day said. “It was a big grind out there. It just feels like every shot is really the most difficult shot you ever hit in your life.”
Last year, Day walked off the course after seven holes of the second round with an injured left ankle. On Friday, he walked off the course in good position to become the first Australian to win the Masters.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure on my shoulders,” Day said. “If you look at it as a challenge, to be the first to do it, it only motivates you to play well. I really need to not think about it at all.”
Tiger Woods, the world’s No. 1 player, looked as if he were unfazed by the difficult conditions, especially when he made three birdies during a wind-blown front nine.
But he made two bogeys on the final four holes, none more cruel than when his third shot hit the pin and ricocheted back in the water at the par-5 15th.
“I was pretty [upset],” Woods said. “I’m looking like I’m making birdie and now I’ve got to struggle and grind to not drop two shots.”
On a day when China’s 14-year-old sensation, Tianlang Guan, was given the first documented slow-play penalty in Masters history, Woods spent 5 hours, 45 minutes on the course plodding his way up the leaderboard until his sloppy yet unfortunate finish.
His second-round 71 left him in a group of seven players at 3-under 141 that includes Justin Rose and Lee Westwood.
“I really played well, especially when the wind was picking up and swirling all over the place,” Woods said. “My score doesn’t quite indicate how well I played today.”
One day after 12 players posted sub-70 rounds at Augusta National, only five managed to do it on day two. Mickelson, who said he respected the course too much in the first round and predicted the tournament would turn into a birdie-fest, shot 76 — tying his highest score since the opening round in 2007 as the defending champ.
How whacky and tumultuous was it at Augusta National?
With five holes to play, Dustin Johnson was at 7-under after a birdie at the par-5 13th and leading the tournament. At the time, he had a seven-shot lead on Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion who was playing in the group ahead.
By the time each was done, Johnson was three shots behind the man known as El Paco. Johnson played the final five holes in 6 over, making double bogey at No. 15 when he stubbed his third shot in the water and another double at the 18th when he left his third shot in the greenside bunker.
Cabrera, meantime, birdied five of the final six holes, ending the streak with a 10-footer at 18 to finish at 4-under 140.
“It just feels like that kind of day and that kind of week where nobody’s going to run away,” said Westwood, who made 15 pars in a round of 71.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dulac is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.