Moving Day at Augusta

In yesterday’s post, “Playing With A Blank Slate,” I closed by wondering if the two leaders, Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros would be able to continue playing with a blank slate mindset or would they “start thinking about it.”

It’s pretty clear that McIlroy is on a gigantic roll. He only made one bogey yesterday, his first of the tournament. But it was only because he put his tee shot in the front bunker on the cunningly diabolical par 3, 12th and couldn’t hit his sand shot close enough.

Compared to some others, it was a minor hiccup. Matt Kuchar hit a towering tee shot in what appeared to be the front bunker. But it plugged somehow and half a dozen people were unable to find it. The same thing happened to U.S. Open Champion, Graeme McDowell, except he was in the azaleas over the back of the green.

These two circumstances required some true mastery because, since both balls were “lost,” both players were obligated to walk back across the bridge spanning Rae’s Creek and play again from that side. Kuchar elected to drop for a wedge shot, while McDowell went all the way back to the tee. In both instances, with a huge gallery behind the tee and a beautiful expanse back down to Rae’s Creek, there was nowhere to hide as they hit their third shots. It had the potential of being the harshest of spotlights.

And in McDowell’s case, I personally found his return to the tee very poignant: in the briefest of glimpses, we could see the bags of the threesome behind him, laying on the side of the tee like beached whales, their owners having moved out of sight in polite deference to his dilemma. Those players had endured his five-minute search in the azaleas, his long walk back to the tee and would now endure his collaboration with his caddie: “If it wasn’t that club, what club would it be?”

Kuchar made a double-bogey but played even to the 18th, while McDowell made triple…but got it right back with an eagle 3 on the 13th. And that, as they say, is why they have their names on their golf bags.

And the 12th hole got Quiros too. He was even until he got there and made a double. But saying that Quiros was even doesn’t really capture what was going on; he’d actually made two bogeys and two birdies. Not exactly playing with a blank slate. And so his final score of 1-over pretty much captured the swirl his mind must have been in given the seven birdies he made the first day. But he didn’t lose all that much, he’s T5.

You’ll recall that Korea’s Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi, were hot on the trail of McIlroy and Quiros at the end of the first day and posed real threats. This early in the tournament, Yang didn’t hurt himself with four bogeys salvaged by four birdies. T7 and 5 strokes back, he’ll have to focus today and tomorrow.

Choi, on the other hand, leaned into it some more with a nice 2-under round that left him T3 with some guy named Woods.

The consensus seems to be that the Ghost of Tiger Woods Past has arisen. And looking at his card, it would be hard to argue against that. He was 1-over par through the 7th with three bogeys and two birdies…and then reeled off seven birdies to the house. Seven. For a total of nine. That’s the Tiger we know and love! And as each of those successive birdies dropped hole-by-hole, it was fun to watch the fist pumps and adulation and glee on the faces in the gallery.

And if he is back, it will be a tribute to his steadfastness with the mastery process and his belief in himself. And if it turns out that it’s not to be just yet, it will still be a tribute to his steadfastness and belief in himself. The will and discipline that this takes!

And speaking of will and discipline, how about the young Aussie, Jason Day, who reeled off 8 birdies on the day to wind up just 2 strokes back of McIlroy. I think it helped that he was paired with McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, all the new “young guns.” Paired with McIlroy in the final group today, it’ll be very interesting to see if he can “blank slate” it again. He sounded very impressive in his post-round interview.

It’s a beautiful day in Augusta and it’s Moving Day!

Ah, the ridiculously sublime Masters.

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