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AUGUSTA, Ga. – History has proven that anything can and will happen on Sunday at Augusta. That said, in order to have a chance to do something special on Sunday, players need to make it to the weekend.
Friday was cut day at The Masters, and it came with an added twist. With the course playing soft due to plenty of rain and the normally-treacherous greens losing some of their bite, there were low scores to be had for players who wanted to get aggressive with their second round strategy.
In most years, the name of the game is to simply get through the first two rounds of Augusta National without running into disaster. Sure, it helps to make some birdies and get near the top of the leaderboard, but the final two days of play have historically yielded low scores to those looking to make a charge and simply staying within 10 strokes of the tournament leader is enough to guarantee a made cut.
However, the underlying theme throughout the week has been the threat of weather playing a factor in the tournament. Rain last week had Augusta National soggy even before most players saw the course, and plenty more precipitation on Monday and Tuesday left the course saturated. The wet conditions make the course play longer, yet also slower, and normally slippery putts and chips that can lead to skyrocketing scores haven’t been nearly as prevalent.
The speed isn’t likely to pick up as more rain will come, but the threat of having to play through that rain on Saturday and Sunday had players looking to make their move early.
Francesco Molinari attacked the normally vicious No. 4 and carded a birdie on his way to a bogey-free round and a spot at 7-under par. Masters rookie Justin Harding began with 10 consecutive pars before taking dead aim, making four straight birdies and going into his first Masters weekend as a big threat to win the whole thing.
Late on Friday afternoon, the excitement was already palpable as the red numbers continued to stack up. Last year, just 17 players were under par heading into the weekend while 35 were at that mark this time around. That made for a packed leaderboard full of drama heading into the weekend.
And then Tiger decided to roar.
Tiger Woods electrified all patrons who filed out of the course – and then back in – after a late rain delay. The four-time Masters champ was up and down through his first nine holes, but provided the soundtrack for the upcoming weekend. A few long birdie putts fell for Woods on the second nine, waking up the familiar roars that rattle through the course and that let patrons and players alike know exactly what is going on and exactly who is doing it.
With so many top names in golf crowding the top of the leaderboard, it’s impossible to predict just how the weekend will play out. But what is certain is that – despite plenty of interference from Mother Nature and plenty of potential weather concerns lying ahead – The Masters is right where it should be heading into Saturday.
It’s been a long and mostly wet road, so far. But now it’s the weekend at Augusta. And, as always, anything can happen.
Mike Anthony is sports editor for the Statesboro Herald, a Morris Multimedia property in Statesboro, Ga.