Over the top: No country for old men

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Published: April 10, 2016 6:13:08 AM

Augusta National 2016 is a pretty long walk in the park

As I write this, Davis Love III has just birdied three holes in a row in the second round of the 2016 Augusta Masters—at 2-under-par, the 51-year-old is in the top 10 of the leaderboard. Contrary to what some believe, Augusta National is no longer that course where precision, strategy, finesse and a smooth putting stroke are enough to mount a successful siege. These skills are imperative, yes, but at 7,435 yards, the Augusta in 2016 is just too long for most of the older players. Love, as most of the millennials will not remember, was one of the longest and straightest drivers in his prime. The 21-time PGA Tour-winner still has all the ingredients to win the masters, including the requisite length off the tee. The oldest competitor in the field—the 66-year-old Tom Watson—has played his last Masters. Watson, who nearly won the 2009 British Open, finished his second round at 8-over and won’t be making an appearance on the weekend. One of the game’s living legends, Watson was followed on his final walk down the 18th hole by the biggest gallery on the course this year yet. After posting a creditable 2-over 74 in his first round, Watson had announced his intentions of making a run for the weekend. “Yeah, I’m still there,” the two-time former champion said. “I think 74 is not bad for old folks. I can’t complain. Every round of golf I’ve ever played, though, I’ve always said it could have been better. It could have been worse, too, in some respects. I made some good putts that I was very happy with.” The end of an era, no less.

Another player who won’t be seen again on Augusta’s fairways is Ian Woosnam, who won the championship a quarter of a century ago. He has only made the cut once in his last 14 appearances here, and finished Friday at 19-over.

“That’s my last go,” declared Woosnam. “I am not fit enough to play with my bad back…and I can’t play with all the slopes here. Every time I play this course, it just seizes on me, and can’t swing the club properly. I am in pain all the way round so it’s time to say bye-bye really. There’s not much they can do. I was swinging it beautiful before I came here. I am always taking painkillers just to play golf, but it’s just too tough here for me. It’s a shame to finish off playing like that, but you can only do your best. Never mind, I’ve still got a Green Jacket!”

But the most heart-breaking moment came when Ernie Els—the South African former world number one—who, by any yardstick, still has many years of competitive golf left in him got a severe attack of the ‘yips’ on Thursday. Els six-putted from two feet after he seemed unable to take the flat stick back—that 5-over 9 on the first hole led to a career-worst score of eight-over 80 for Els. “I can’t explain it,” he said. “I’m sure somewhere up there (in his head) that you just can’t do what you normally do. A lot of people have stopped playing the game, you know. It’s unexplainable. I couldn’t get the putter back. I was standing there. I’ve got a three-footer. I’ve made thousands of three-footers, and I just couldn’t take it back…”

In a striking display of self-control, Els finished his round and did not storm off the course. “I don’t know how I stayed out there. But you love the game, and you’ve got to have respect for the tournament. It’s very tough to tell you what goes through your mind. The last thing you want to do is do that on a golf course at this level. It’s very difficult,” he said after his first round.

Els was back on the course on Friday morning hoping to reverse his putting woes and somehow rally and make the cut, but his yippy ways were back early on. With an 18-inch putt for par at that very same first hole, he missed on the left side, then made the tap-in for a bogey. His score on Thursday was the highest of his career at Augusta National, and the first time he has failed to make the cut.

On the other end of the spectrum is defending champion Jordan Spieth. Golf’s new poster boy seems to have taken to Augusta with aplomb. Playing in only his third Masters, Spieth equalled Arnold Palmer’s record of six consecutive rounds as leader at the Masters. But Spieth, who was five shots clear at the turn, got as affected by the hard greens and swirling winds as everyone else in the field. And that leaves fans with the tantalising prospect of a Spieth vs Rory McIlroy pairing for the weekend. The Irishman recovered wonderfully to shoot one of the handful of red numbers on Friday with a one-under 71 and lies a solitary stroke behind Spieth after starting the day eight shots off the pace. The Green Jacket is the only remaining piece of the career grand slam puzzle that McIlroy is missing.

But the most confident player in the chasing pack is not only a rookie at the tournament, but he’s also an amateur. Despite a triple bogey on the final hole on Friday, the US Amateur Champion Bryson De Chambeau was nonchalant. “That’s golf. I’m not worried about it. There’s no doubt I can win. It’s just hitting golf shots on a golf course, albeit a beautiful course.”

Golf’s most anticipated weekend couldn’t have got more exciting. I’m rooting for the amateur, but will totally switch loyalties to Love who finished the second day in 23rd spot. That’s only if our man Anirban Lahiri—who made amends for his opening round 76 with a very credible one-over 73 on Friday—doesn’t make a move. I have a feeling that this time around he’s going to have a crack at the championship. Amen to that.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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