Masters Standings 2012: Dissecting the Day 2 Leaderboard
Friday at The Masters was more exhilarating than most Sunday finals for any other tournament. The bright lights, the depth of talent among the field and the legend of Augusta has made for one heck of a tournament thus far.
Whether it be the fascination with the 52-year-old Fred Couples tied for the second-round lead, the fact there are two immensely talented and productive international players who are yet to win a tournament both one shot back or the fact there were so many players who stepped up their games a day after faltering badly, this tournament has been great for more than the simple fact it's The Masters.
That it is The Masters only makes those players' performances yesterday and today that much more special. The stories surrounding the Day 2 Leaderboard are beyond cool and promise for an amazing weekend finish at the 2012 Masters.
The Ageless Wonder and the Guy We Know Very Little About
If you're 25 or older and spent any of those 25-plus years watching golf, you know a great deal about the person of Fred Couples. Even if that doesn't fit you, if you've been living anywhere than under a rock, you probably know who he is and that he's been extremely successful over an amazingly consistent career.
You also know he is a former Masters Champion and at age 52 is now playing on The Champions Tour. After shooting a 5-under 67 on Friday Couples was the leader in the clubhouse until Jason Dufner caught him and threatened to pass him before ending his day with a 2-under 70.
Just a few biographical details about the younger man you may not know much about. Dufner is a 35-year-old Cleveland native who ranks 42nd in the world. He made his PGA debut in 2001 and finished second in last year's PGA Championship, but has never finished higher than 30th at The Masters.
Considering there is no more pressure on a golfer than at Augusta, this weekend promises to be the most pressure Dufner has ever faced as a golfer. Perhaps the veteran Couples will help keep him calm.
The International Underachievers
Coming in at 4-under just behind the ageless wonder and guy we know little about are the international underachievers. Truthfully, though, calling either Sergio Garcia or Lee Westwood underachievers is unfair.
Both have had wonderful professional careers combining for 59 professional victories. And both have been extremely successful in major tournaments without winning.
With both just one stroke off the lead on Friday, the odds of one of these international underachievers removing that label by the end of Easter Sunday is very high.
The one who does (if either can) is the one who is best able to take what they've learned from their past failures and channel their best effort for two more days. Though I am a huge Sergio Garcia fan, I trust Westwood to focus in and do that more than I do the Spaniard.
Three of a Kind Round out Group of Players at 4-Under
Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuisen and Bubba Watson are remarkably similar players who happen to share a place at 4-under. McIlroy won the two Open tournaments in 2011, while Watson has been very successful in the early part of his career and has been in the running at most of the major tournaments he's played in.
Of course McIlroy and Oosthuisen are also both internationals, while Watson is from Georgia/Florida, and each plays the game with a little flair. Each are very talented and each has to like their chances this weekend if they can get hot and catch a couple breaks.
At one shot off the lead, any of the three could erupt and take the 54-hole lead and/or find themselves in the final pairing on Sunday.
The Odd Couple
At first glance Paul Lawrie and Matt Kuchar don't share a lot common. The same could be said of the second glance and the third as well.
Lawrie has won a major—in fact one of the most memorable when he came from way behind on Sunday to take away Jean Van de Velde's British Open Crown in 1999. Most people remember that tournament for the collapse of Van de Velde and not so much for the rapid ascent of Lawrie on that final day.
Yet that remains Lawrie's claim to fame.
For Matt Kuchar, he is 10 years the junior of Lawrie, a native of Winter Park, Florida, and has ranked as high as sixth in the official World Golf Rankings. Kuchar was one of 15 players I highlighted earlier this week in anticipation they could end their major curse.
It's hard to imagine what the two would discuss were they to be paired on Sunday or if they would talk at all. Something tells me that one will fall off Saturday, making my curiosity irrelevant.
The Old Grizzly Veterans
Between Miguel Angel Jimenez and Phil Mickelson, there's enough Masters and overall major experience to pass around to the other players that they'd all be filled to the brim of their souls.
Mickelson, of course, has three Masters wins and a victory at the PGA Championship to his name, not to mention countless runner-ups at The US Open and a couple close calls at The Open.
At 48 years of age, Jimenez has a boatload of life experience 21 professional wins. His best finish at The Masters was a tie for eighth place in 2008. A fascination with cigars and the long ponytail make Jimenez one of the tour's most interesting players.
Heck, I can't help but think he may be "The Most Interesting Man in the World."
Even if he isn't, he is one heck of a golfer, one who at 3-under and two shots off the lead is destined to challenge the rest of the competition on Sunday. He won't be playing alongside Phil Mickelson, but if he were, that might be the pairing of the tournament to watch.
Aaron Baddeley, Charles Howell III and Nick Watney are all 2-under through 36 holes. And each is a player I mentioned earlier in the week had a chance to break through in this year's tournament.
Unlike some of the other leaders above them, these three have all been remarkably consistent with none of them scoring lower than 70 or higher than 72. It's as if all three have treated this like a football game where the goal through the first two quarters is simply to stay in the game and to then make a run in the second half.
Saturday is generally referred to as "Moving Day" in golf, and it's clear through the first two days these three have taken that strategy fairly literally.
The Sad Birthday Boy Recovered
On Thursday Henrik Stenson raced out to 5-under through 17 holes and figured to lead after the first day if he could simply get the ball in the cup in a reasonable number of swats.
Instead his scorecard resembled a snowman for that 18th hole making the 36-year-old birthday boy miserable as he reflected on great round turned downright embarrassing.
Yet, Friday he recovered by putting together one-under 71 and a tie for 11th at 2-under par. That he didn't fold altogether is amazing and a testament to his resilience.
With Peter Hanson, Vijay Singh and Ben Crane joining him at 2-under and tied for 11th overall, this Masters leaderboard is as strong as its been after 36 holes in a number of years.
Any of the above players are capable of raising their game enough to stay in the race Saturday and get to Sunday with a fighting shot for the green jacket.
What a leaderboard! What a great weekend it should be at Augusta National.