Bubba Watson hopped aboard the birdie train late in the second round to take a three-stroke lead into the weekend at the 2014 Masters. His strong finish doesn't change the fact that Augusta National Golf Club is posing a serious test for the elite field.
While Watson has the inside edge on his second green jacket at seven under, only 14 players are currently under par with two rounds to play. Furthermore, a score of four over was good enough to make the cut, showing how tough the Augusta course is playing.
It doesn't appear the players are going to get any relief on Saturday, either. Another sunny day is in the forecast, which will dry out the course even further. Let's check out the current leaderboard before taking a closer look at the weather conditions.
2014 Masters Leaderboard
Round 3 Weather Forecast
|2014 Masters Forecast - Day 3|
|Date||High||Low||Chance of Rain||Wind|
|April 12||83||56||0 percent||SSW at 6 mph|
The hourly forecast for Augusta from the Weather Channel shows temperatures will be around 65 degrees when play begins shortly after 10 a.m. ET. The mercury will steadily rise throughout the day, topping off in the low 80s before dropping a few degrees at the back end of the round.
As mentioned, the clear conditions would normally be a positive, but with the course already dried out, it's simply going to make things even more slick. That makes it even more difficult to play aggressively, so players will need to pick their spots carefully.
Conditions aren't expected to change at Augusta until Monday at the earliest. So golfers know what they have to deal with over the next couple days and will adjust their approach accordingly, at least until it reaches a point where they must take more chances to push toward contention.
The Courier-Journal passed along another forecast for Saturday, which also points toward clear skies above Augusta National Golf Club:
Perhaps the saving grace on Saturday will be the lack of wind. The forecast projects less than double-digit sustained wind speeds throughout the round, which takes one potential hurdle out of the equation for the most part.
That said, it doesn't change the overall outlook. Scoring conditions should remain difficult for the third round with very little margin for error, both in terms of accuracy and judging distances because it will be tough to make the ball stop on a dime.
When you add it all up, the forecast is great news for Watson. He's proven over the first two days that he can handle these tricky conditions and at the same time it's going to make chasing him down an unenviable task for the trailing pack.
Watson, who won the Masters two years ago before a lackluster tie for 50th last year, said the lack of media attention since he wasn't the defending champion helped. Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN provided the fan favorite's comments about being able to focus on his preparation:
For me, I didn't know how to handle it the best way, and so I didn't play my best golf last year. This year I come in here with no media attention, just out there practicing ... So yeah, it was very different from last year to this year.
John Senden is the closest player to Watson at four under. Some big names also remain in the mix, including reigning champion Adam Scott (-3), rising star Jordan Spieth (-3), points leader Jimmy Walker (-2) and wily veteran Fred Couples (-2), among others.
For any of them to capture the green jacket, however, they need Watson to falter. They can't expect to chase him down if he keeps playing on the same level he did for the first two days because the conditions aren't prime for low scoring.
The pressure and attention Watson felt last year will likely return for the weekend. How he handles that, along with the continued tough conditions, is going to decide whether he captures the green jacket again. It's hard not to like his chances.