Didn't these guys used to be nobodies?

Posted: April 07, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga. - What in the name of Amen Corner have they gone and done to the Masters?

Through the decades, it has been the most captivating of the majors. You could always count on it to provide plenty of birdies and even, heaven forbid, eagles. It was possible to go low, as they like to say. Names like Hogan and Snead, then Palmer and Nicklaus, and later Faldo and Woods, pretty much cornered the market on that green-jacket concession.

So, where's the beef?

Now, par has become not only an acceptable score, but a favorable one. Pardon me, but isn't that supposed to be the U.S. Open's line? Must have missed the memo. If this keeps up, pretty soon the powers that be will be dedicating a bridge to some Dean Wilson. Or is that John Rollins? As if there's a difference.

The folks who complained that Augusta National had become way too user-friendly might want to reconsider. Maybe hitting wedges into par-4s isn't such a bad thing after all.

To the untrained eye, or maybe even to golf junkies, the first page of the leaderboard reads like your basic Honda Classic. No offense intended. But as Butch once asked Sundance, "Who are these guys?" It's certainly a valid observation.

This week was supposed to be about Tiger and Phil Mickelson, because it usually has been. And still might be, before the final putt drops. But for the moment, it's mostly looking as if a Trivial Pursuit convention broke out. Not that's there's anything wrong with that.

It's a scrum unlike any other.

Let's see. You have the law firm of Wetterich, Clark, Taylor, Rose, Kelly, Johnson, Howell and Glover. Other than Vijay Singh, who won here in 2000, and Geoff Ogilvy, your reigning U.S. Open champ, that's the top 10 list through 36 holes. Oops, almost forgot the dreaded Dredge. Better make that a table for 11. Anybody who can supply the first names should call ESPN for a spot on "Stump the Schwab." For the record, the correct answer, in order, is Brett, Tim, Vaughn, Justin, Jerry, Zach, David and Lucas. For extra credit, the Dredge belongs to Bradley. And that splash you just heard was CBS execs jumping into Rae's Creek.

It's not their fault. It's just probably not what the network executives had in mind when they wrote the check.

As for a Tiger sighting, he's one of about a million at 3-over-par 147, still somehow only five behind Wetterich and Clark, the co-pacesetters.

As for Phil, he's at 149. And that concludes the celebrity portion of our program. Thanks for tuning in.

Asked whether he still liked this place, Lee Westwood replied: "Not anymore. Not really. It just asks too many questions that there is no answer to. It is a bit of a shame."

Only if you're into excitement. Westwood carded a 73 yesterday, six better than he shot in the opening round. No telling whether he was happy to just make the cut.

There's also no telling whether this is what the folks who run this thing had in mind when they took steps to lengthen and toughen the course over the last 5 years or so. But when you couple that with weather conditions that make it hard and fast, then toss in some wind, you have a totally different tuna-mint. Be careful what you wish for.

Wetterich and Clark, who was last April's runner-up, are at 142. That's the highest score by any leaders since 1982. Or when Tiger was entering first grade. Taylor is the only other one under par. Rose, who led after each of the first two rounds 3 years ago before going poof, Kelly, Singh and Johnson are even.

Paul Casey and Paddy Harrington did have 68s, so it can be done. Too bad they opened with 79 and 77, respectively. A year ago, 23 were under par at this point.

Since historically, it doesn't get easier on the weekend, the winner might not finish in red numbers. That hasn't happened since 1966, when Jack Nicklaus, Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer tied at 288. Jack won the 18-hole playoff with a 70. The last time nobody even finished at even was 1956, when Jack Burke shot 289.

What does it all mean? Mostly that Tiger and Phil probably still have a chance. Maybe even a decent chance. A 69 today could move you past a lot of bodies. And if anyone can do it, it might be one of them.

If not, there might not be any need to change your dinner plans for Easter.

"You just plod along and try to put the ball in the right spots . . . " Tiger said. "And [hope you] don't have any wrecks out there. It's as dry as it was in '99, except they added 500 yards and a billion trees. The greens are getting that sheen."

The kind of sheen that screams, look out below.

He trails 14 guys, including Jim Furyk, who's at 146. That's the bad news. But there's a flip side.

"They aren't going anywhere," he noted.

Say, didn't you used to be the Masters? Rest in peace. *

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