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April 08, 2010

Masters Live Coverage: Round 2 Blog

Posted at 11:58 PM by Live Blogger | Categories: 2010 Nerve Center, Masters Round 2

SI Photos: Round 2 | Round 1 | Leaderboard

7:30 That wraps up the blog for today. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the weekend.

7:25 Robert Karlsson three-jacks the last to conclude play for the day. It's a star-studded leaderboard, and sets up for a memorable weekend. Westwood and Poulter lead at 8-under. Five tied at 6-under, including Tiger and Phil. What more do you want?

7:15 Commenter Reagan wants to submit "Pasta Molinari's" for consideration, but we're now voting on our two finalists: "The Mighty Molinari's" or "Super Molinari Brothers." A clash of titans! Polls remain open.

7:10 Phil hits the back of the hole with his long birdie putt on 18, then finishes off the par. He's in the logjam at 6-under. Does this mean he'll be paired with Woods tomorrow? How has Jim Nantz not mentioned this yet?

7:04 Faldo says anyone within six of the lead has a shot to win this thing. That would narrow our list of contenders to just 15.

6:57 No new Molinari nickname ideas in the past hour, so it's time to vote on our top two: "The Mighty Molinari's," or "Super Molinari Brothers." All ballots are final. Rock the vote, America.

6:54 Tirico chats with Westwood in the clubhouse. Lee says nothing specific distracted him on the tee at 18, and he was just mad at himself.

6:51 Kim bogies the last to finish 6-under, and Els pars 18 to finish at even par. Els was one of the pre-tournament favorites, and it's a little suprising to see that he sputtered today.

6:47 Mickelson birdies 17, his third of the day, to move to 6-under and a tie for third.

6:44 Tough luck for Kim at 18. His tee shot settles in a deep divot in the rough, and he double-crosses the approach, sending his ball deep into the gallery to the left of the green. The 18th continues to be a beast today.

6:40 Phil rips a power fade right down the middle at 17. He's still 5-under.

6:33 Playing alongside Westwood, Matteo Manassero becomes the youngest player to make the cut at the Masters, at the ripe old age of 16. In a related story, when I was 16 I got a job washing and parking golf carts at a course near my parent's house, and I was pretty psyched about it.

6:30 Westwood bogeys 18 to finish tied with Poulter at 8-under. The Englishmen will be paired together tomorrow, which work out well for both of them, as Jim Nantz points out, since they're good friends.

6:27 Looking for an underreported story? (And by "underreported," I mean, "not reported anywhere even once.") The pollen count in Atlanta and its suburbs hit astronomical levels this week. Parked cars typically accumulate a thin yellow layer of the stuff in just a few hours. Little pollen dust storms pop up around the city when the wind swirls. Basically, it's horrible for anyone with allergies. So my question is, how is Allegra not a title sponsor of the Masters? Look, I never said my underreported story was a good story.

6:20 Phil misreads a chip on the par-5 15th and will have a surprisingly lengthy birdie try. He's stuck in neutral at 5-under.

6:15 Westwood got out of jail on the 18th, knocking it into a fairway bunker. If he gets up and down from there, he'll sleep with the lead tonight.

6:11 An update on my quest to give a proper nickname to those Molinari's. Reader Kevin has polled his office, and they've submitted "The Mighty Molinari's." I think it's either that, or "Super Molinari Brothers," unless someone else has something to submit? Let's make this happen, America.

6:07 Something distracted Westwood during his tee shot on 18, and he sliced it halfway to Macon. Time to dial up an escape shot to get out of the forest. This should be fun to see.

6:03 Westwood leaves a 15-foot birdie putt short on the 17th, then taps for par. He'll head to 18 at 9-under, the leader by one.

5:59 Cool moment with Els at 15. Ernie chipped across the front of the green and his ball got caught in the rough on the downslope, outside Els' view. He had a ball in hand and was about to drop right where he was standing before the crowd alerted him that his first ball was still dry. If Els had finished his drop, that would've been one frustrating penalty shot, eh?

5:55 Another good stat from the broadcast: The par-4 14th is the only hole at Augusta without a hazard (water, bunkers ... nothing). Today it's playing as the hardest hole on the course. The ESPN stat people are on point today.

5:49 Anthony Kim's approach at 15 settles just off the green for a great eagle chance. He's currently 5-under, right in the thick of it.

5:44 Watson takes two get to get out of a greenside bunker at 18 and bogies to finish at 3-under. Mathematically he's in this thing, but with conditions expected to become hotter and drier, he's very much a long shot. Nice to have him around on the weekend, though.

5:39 Westwood birdied 15 and has about 40 feet for birdie on 16. He's your leader by one, 4 under on today's round.

5:35 Commenter Emilie wanted to know who my mom cheers for now that she's no longer a Tiger Woods fan. The answer, of course, is her son.

5:32 Commenter MikeZ confirms my debate between 12 and 13 -- but I also wonder if 16 might be the most fun of the bunch. It would be cool to stop and skip shots across the water like the pros do during their practice rounds, right?

5:27 Here's my take on the Tiger commercial: At first I thought it was creepy, and not at all effective, but now I think I get it: Earl "scolding" Tiger is what a lot of disappointed fans would want to see, so this is their answer. Feels to me like Nike is pandering to this group of "angry" fans. Effective? You tell me.

5:22 Mickelson cozies his lag putt to within tap-in range. This birdie will drop him to 5-under, three behind Westwood and Poulter and one behind Tiger, Choi and Barnes.

5:18 Phil goes for it in two on the 13th (that would be the "risk" option) and reaches the front of the green. He's got about 40 feet for eagle.

5:15 For the lowdown on Tiger's second round (he's currently two behind Westwood and Poulter), check this out.

5:11 Westwood doubles the 14th to fall back to 8-under and a tie with Poulter for the lead.

5:06 Had this debate the other day: if you could play one hole -- and one hole only -- at Augusta, which would it be? I'm torn between 13, for the decisions it offers (and since it's a par 5, I'd get to hit a couple extra shots and maximize my time at Augusta), or the 12th, to play the heart of Amen corner and cross the bridge. Thoughts?

5:00 Phil drills a five-foot knee-knocker for par on the par-3 12th. Now he's on to the risk-reward par-5 13th. Something tells me Phil will choose "risk" here. He's 4 under, tied for seventh.

4:58 Watson birdies 15 and the crowd lets loose. He's 4-under, hanging around.

4:54 TV broadcast sticks my nose in my Dustin Johnson wager, show DJ hit a lackluster approach to 40 feet. He's 1-under, tied for 12th.

4:51 Great stat from the TV broadcast: Phil has finished in the top 10 in 10 of his last 11 Masters. Can that be right? Pretty incredible.

4:46 To clarify, Nike CEO Phil Knight did not shoot down the Tiger banner-ad plane with a swoosh-guided missle, but he did defend his company's new TV spot with Tiger/Earl.

4:44 In case anyone was wondering, my other Vegas wager, besides Poulter, was Dustin Johnson, who was 60-1. That bet isn't looking so good at the moment.

4:39 Westwood two-putts for birdie on 13. He's your leader by two.

4:34 Here's the scoop on the Tiger banner-ad plane, which was grounded this afternoon.

4:31 Westwood goes for the green in two on the par-5 15th ...and...just...barely clears the pond. Bold play. He'll have a long putt at eagle to go to 11-under.

4:29 Commenter Tim reports the plane that towed the banner ad mocking Tiger has been grounded. Unsure if it was ordered to land, or shot down by Nike CEO Phil Knight.

4:20 Westwood has the lead now at 9-under and is looking extremely calm over his putts.

4:16 Phil's front nine featured a birdie and two bogeys. Can he right the ship and get back in this thing on the back? Anything is possible.

4:14 Commenter Wes wants to know what a final pairing with Yang and Tiger would be like. My response: pretty damn interesting. A Phil/Tiger pair would be a ratings bonanza, obviously, but Yang/Tiger would be great theater, too.

4:10 Phil bangs in a par putt on 9. He's 4-under at the turn.

4:08 Mike Tirico ties to out-syrup Jim Nantz in his pre-recorded intro for today's broadcast. ("It's golf ... at it's finest.") Did you hear that, Jim? I expect you to lay it on thick this weekend.

4:06 Tiger’s reception from galleries appeared overwhelmingly positive, but is his popularity really on the rise? To investigate further, I conducted an unscientific poll of Midwestern moms (OK, it was just my mom). Her quick, unfiltered response: “I hope Tiger doesn’t win.” Tiger may be making progress this week with a lot of folks, but he’ll have to do more than go low at Augusta to win back Linda.

4:01 ESPN kicks off its broadcast with a greenside interview with Tiger. Says he wanted to be in contention at this point and is satisfied to be there. A standard vanilla Tiger interview.

3:58 Tiger two-putts on 18 to finish 6-under, two behind the leaders. Playing partner K.J. Choi also taps in to finish 6-under for the tourney.

3:46 Tiger slid another 8-foot birdie putt just past the hole on 17. He eviscerated his tee shot on 18, which has been one of the toughest holes of the day. He's now two back of Poulter and Westwood, who both dropped to 8-under.

3:38 Among my goals for the next four hours: create the defining nickname for Francesco and Edoardo Molinari (incidentally, both look like good bets to make the cut). Suggestions? The best I've come up with are "The Flying Molinari's" and "Super Molinari Brothers." I am flexible here. You tell me.

3:33 Commenter Josh want to know, why no love for Poulter? I think he's getting quite a bit of respect, actually. His win at the Accenture was a clear sign he's arrived, and ready to win one of these majors soon. Put it this way: last week I was in Vegas, I put some money where my keyboard is with Poulter, at 25-1.

3:25 Meanwhile, Tiger missed a slippery 8-footer for birdie on 16. He's three behind co-leaders Poulter and Westwood.

3:23 More proof that the Tiger scandal has changed the way mainstream media cover him: Earlier today the esteemed John Feinstein said live on Golf Channel: "A win for Tiger would be good for golf, but bad for humanity." In fairness, Feinstein backpedaled at the end of the spot, but still ...

3:20 Tiger was just off the back of the 15th in two, but his eagle chip bonced on a sprinkler head, leaving him a 15-foot birdie, which he drained. Now he's onto the par-3 16th.

3:16 What's up, everyone? Good to be here. After an epic opening day, the action in round two is heating up. Those of you on Tiger Watch will be interested to know that Woods just birdied the par-5 15th to move to 6-under, three behind Ian Poulter.

3:10 Ok folks, that does it for me today. Thanks for your lively comments, I'm turning you over to Golf.com's Jeff Ritter, hope to keep seeing you as the year rolls on.

3:07 From Tiger-hater Tighthead:

Des Kuchar wish he had worn a lime green polo and sweater vest as well?

I actually like Tiger's outfit today. Way better than what he was wearing on Monday for his practice round/presser. That was just a fashion disaster.

3:04 Tiger's approach leaves him just short of the green. Tantalizingly close to the hole, but it'll leave him a tricky little pitch to get him in prime tap-in territory...maybe he'll just try to hole it from there.

3:02 Speaking of crafty veterans, time and back issues may have finally caught up with Fred Couples. He birdied 16, 17 and 18 to finish his day -3 for the tourney. That's good for T9, but has to be a disappointment after the par-fest he was having earlier in the day.

3:00 Kim shows no signs of falling down the leaderboard, he birdies 6 to get to -6. He's got to be considered one of the most dangerous players out there, in a tourney full of crafty veterans he's got youth on his side.

2:58 Tiger stripes his tee shot on 15 with no problems. Another chance to try to match his eagle from yesterday.

2:56 Working on the same line, KJ Choi just barely misses his birdie try after Kuchar banged home his bogey putt. Credit Kuchar for not melting down there.

2:55 Very interesting article from our own Cameron Morfit on Watson's relationship with Couples. Maybe they would make a more interesting pairing than i thought.

2:53 Tiger makes a good bid to get inside 5 feet, he should have no trouble making par.

2:48 Kuchar outthinks himself, playing a wedge to try and clear the mound on 14. Unfortunately he didn't, and ends up taking the same shot again...this time with a putter, only to have it run down the mound past Choi's ball...not his favorite hole on this course.

2:44 The 14th green is flat out horrifying. Kuchar hit one about 10 feet from the hole and ended up about 40 feet down the ridge. KJ was maybe 3 feet out and rolled to 20. Tiger was less lucky, landing about 8 feet short and ending up waaaaaay out, maybe 100 feet from the pin. Augusta is a cruel mistress.

2:42 Mickelson makes his first move of the day, a birdie that brings him to -6.

2:39 Only three birdies so far at the 14th today, where Tiger's group is hoping to make up some ground. Frankly, they'll be lucky not to drop some strokes, especially Kuchar, who hit the worst tee shot of the group.

2:37 Reader MichaelBeaton tweets:

A Tiger/Phil grouping on Sunday would be pretty epic...then again, so would Watson/Couples.

To be honest, the pairing I'd like to see most is Tiger/Watson. After the way Watson has called Woods out on his behavior, I'd love to see whether or not Woods can control himself down the stretch...or if he'd even want to.

2:35 Westwood makes up for his bogey with a bird at number 6, bringing him back into a tie for the lead with Ian Poulter.

2:33 KJ is not about to be upstaged. He matches Tiger's birdie and they both move to -5, 3 back and tied for 4th with Anthony Kim, Mickelson and YE Yang (both of whom are still even through 2)

2:28 Well it was only a matter of time: Tiger drains a huge birdie putt on 5. From the moment he stood over it you just knew he was going to sink that putt. On the par 5s at least it's the same old Tiger.

2:27 The commentators seem very proud of Tiger for talking to Kuchar throughout the round. When did not being a jerk suddenly become something worth commending?

2:26 Great conversation earlier within the SI Golf Group about whether the old timers have a real shot of winning this year. A lot of good points made, but one question that's not asked is why?. Why do older players seem to still play Augusta National so well? The obvious answers: familiarity with the course and the fact that putting is at a premium compared to British/US Open venues. Still, the course is over 600 yards longer than when guys like Larry Mize (who easily made 1-under in the first round) won, so is it really even the same course? What do you think?

2:21 Westwood and Poulter have flip-flopped at the top of the leaderboard with a bogey and birdie respectively. Would be great to see these two Ryder Cup teammates paired together over the weekend.

2:19 An update from our friends at the Masters, stroke average so far today is at 75, while the first round stood just over 72. The lack of red numbers isn't just anecdotal, these pin positions are really taking their toll.

2:13 Tiger, Kuchar and Choi all hit good tee shots on the 13th. Look for Tiger to make his move right here, as he historically dominates Augusta's par 5's (he's already -6 on them this week).

2:07 From reader Wes Madison:

Tom Watson is simply reminding us how great he still is. We can't help but get excited to see him play well.

It does beg the question, if Watson, Freddie, Phil and Tiger are all towards the top of the leaderboard at the end of the weekend (and they're all there now), who becomes the fan favorite? Who will you be rooting for?

2:09 Tiger makes another par at 12, still not quite in the zone (especially on the par 3s), but not making any mistakes either.

2:05 For those of you keeping an eye on Bernard Langer (and who isn't), he's even on the day through 8, -1 on the tournament. Langer was cruising at -3 before bogeying 17 and 18 yesterday. It's easy to blame this on his age, but we can't discount the possibility that he was devastated by the news that journeyman outfielder Ryan Langerhans was released by the Seattle Mariners around the same time. A dark day for Langer-related names everywhere.

2:00 Quick leaderboard for you, Westwood continues to absolutely ebarrass Augusta National, after eagling #2 and nabbing a birdie on 3, he's at the top of the board at -8. Ian Poulter is right behind at -7, Ricky Barnes at -6 and a slightly fading Fred Couples in a group at -5 (Yang and Mickelson, who are both even through 1 are also at -5)

1:58 Watson birdied 4 to get back to even for the day, he's through 5. Leaderboard update coming.

1:54 For all you intrepid HTMLers out there, hopefully the wrap issue is fixed, continue to let me know if we have any problems. 

1:51 Tiger chips in at 11, he'll have about 5 feet to try and save par on what's been a very tricky hole today (as always).

1:50 While we were updating some links for you, Lee Westwood came on like a house afire, birdieing the first two holes to take the lead at -7.

1:42 From reader Brian Sullivan:

Who thought of getting Begay on GC - he is awful. Was it just because he is buds with Tiger?

I'm going to thoroughly disagree here (as well as sort of agree). I can't help but get sucked in when Notah Begay talks about Tiger Woods. He's not a bad analyst (and I think with time he might actually be quite good), but when he talks about his "brother" Woods, Begay is an absolute expert. It's like listening to a mechanic talk about his favorite car. Begay should follow Tiger around on the course Feherty-style. 

1:40 Another opinion on why we love Fred Couples from reader John:

In reponse to why we like Freddie? Yes, he's cool, but I remember all the big shots that Freddie hit at Kiawah during the team part of the Ryder Cup. Freddie in the team competition and Paul Azinger were our best players against the Spanish Armada and Faldo.

1:36 Tiger hits an absolutely gorgeous tee shot on 11, he looks like he's heating up. KJ matches him right down the middle of the fairway.

1:31 I know he's missed out on being the first Asian to win a major, but you have to think that KJ desperately wants to be the first Asian player to win the Masters. As humble as he is, he's always considered Augusta his best chance to win a major, and now's as good a time as any.

1:30 KJ's bid wasn't nearly as strong as Tiger's, but will also leave him at -4. Quick Couples update: shock of shocks, he pars 13.

1:28 Tiger leaves his long birdie try on the edge of the hole, he'll stay at -4 through 10. Watson still -5 through 4.

1:26 From reader Mike Wayne:

Sergio has stated that he hates the course at augusta. He can't hide his disdain for it.

Apparently the feeling's mutual, Mike

1:24 Tiger's threesome will all have birdie putts on the 10th, even though Tiger slipped on his approach shot. Him and KJ still stand at -4.

1:21 I'm actually going to disagree with Rick here. I think Couples is defined more by his style than by any shot. We love him because he's cool and plays like he couldn't care less what we think, not because of that tee shot (John Daly, if you're reading this, ignore everything I just said)

1:18 Interesting point from SI's Rick Lipsey:

Has anybody's career even been more defined by one shot--Fred's tee shot at 12 at Augusta that stuck on the bank--than Couples? Fred's career and image are likely much different if that shot falls back in Rae's Creek. Not Sarazen. He still had a huge career without the double eagle.

1:16 All of you commenting on the lack of red numbers are dead on. Guys are setting themselves up very well on the relatively soft turf, but this is still Augusta, and tough pins on rolling greens are making birdies scarce. Par is the word of the day.

1:14 If you hadn't guessed, Couples made par on 12th...because that's what he does today.

1:13 From reader Sergio Zuniga:

I feel for Duvall watching him double bogey yesterday ( on 13 i think...) was sad...

It was at 14, but I can't argue with the sadness of it. Duval seems to be standing at a crossroads in his career...hopefully he'll move forward instead of falling back. He's +1 through 8 today and +5 for the tourney. Doesn't bode well for him sticking around for the weekend.

1:09 Quick Kiwi note from Eamon Lynch:

Michael Campbell won the US Open in 2005 at Pinehurst, then had top ten finishes at the year's other two majors. Since then? 17 Majors, 11 missed cuts, One WD, Best finish: T36 at the British four years ago. Today he's holding up the back end of the field and couldn't break 80 either day. Cruelty, thy name is golf.

Clearly Campbell needs to get himself a timeshare in Augusta, he's clearly jetlagged from the New Zealand-Atlanta flight.

1:04 Couples starts off smooth on the 12th, with a very nice tee shot which will give him a very good chance at birdie.

1:03 Reader jc_moreno_89 tweets:

i think Tiger is making a run at the back 9, at least with one eagle

I like the enthusiasm, but as we saw on the 8th, the course is playing much more difficult today, especially the par-5s. I'm not sure how many eagles we're going to see, especially as the greens dry and the wind picks up.

1:01 Sergio also saved par on 11, keeping him at +3. Freddy's good play has overshadowed another disappointing major for Garcia so far. He's gone from "Best player to never win a major" to "Hey, remember when Sergio competed at the majors?"

1:00 Couples knocks in an easy putt to stay at par through 11.

12:57 Reader David Crowe on my disappointment question from earlier:

Biggest Disappointment - Rory McIlroy at +5. After reaching world #7 with a long stretch of 10 ten finishes he's in free fall - he missed the cut at the Houston Open last week too

Can't argue that we want (and expect) more from McIlroy. But remember, even Tiger didn't win the Masters when he was 20. Give him some time, he'll get it done eventually.

12:54 You'll notice Tom Watson wasn't in that update. That's because old TW had a hiccup for bogey on the first, dropping him to -4 and tying him with the likes of Tiger, KJ Choi (both of whom got par on the 8th) and Anthony Kim. Embarrassing company to be sure.

12:52 Ian Poulter birdies 8 to bring him into a tie for the lead with Couples (still at even through 10) and Ricky Barnes, who's -2 on the day. Westwood and Mickelson have yet to tee off, but are also right behind with YE Yang at -5.

12:50 Have to feel bad for Vijay, who's definitely not going to be making the cut this week. Between him and Sergio it makes me yearn for the days when I knew who was going to be at the top of the leaderboard every week (except for Steve Stricker, obviously).

12:47 From Richard Holtzclaw:

Can anyone else here earn and gamble millions, sleep with 14+ different women. I thought not.

Richard: I happen to have it on good authority that Wilt Chamberlain is one of our regular readers.

12:43 Question from the gallery:

Quck note: How many more viewers and money do you think that the PGA and the Masters has received now that Tiger is back? I bet you significantly, if not doubled, than what they had without him.


The early numbers are very good for ESPN. Yesterday's round got over 50% more viewers than last year's Round 1 and over 80% more than 2008...not too shabby.

12:40 Ian Pulter and Westwood are holding down the British Invasion at the moment. Biggest disappointment of the tournament for me so far is Paul Casey (plus-3 yesterday), who was my pick to win. The Brit has only played Augusta 5 times and has 3 top-10s and a T11 under his belt. I'm hoping his inconsistent play isn't a sign that the shoulder injury that knocked him out of the Shell Houston Open last week is going to linger this year. Anybody else have a Masters pick that's fizzling instead of sizzling?

12:39 Sorry about that folks, slight technical difficulties, quick leaderboard check, Couples and young Ricky Barnes are tied on top at -6, with Poulter and Watson, who just teed off, lurking behind.

12:37 A good note from Golf.com's Dave Dusek on Tiger's iron selection this week.

12:29 Ross Fisher hits a beaut of a tee shot on 15. Fisher does the same club twirl as Tiger after a good shot...unfortunately it's not as effective when you're +8.

12:27 Looks like the cut line might move all the way to +4...that would make the likes of Larry Mize and David Duval quite happy.

12:26  injennysmind the feed at masters.com starts at the BACK nine (i think)

Don't defend them Jenny, that's exactly what they want you to do.

12:23 Readers Tim Carroll and Tighthead have a nice back-and-forth going in the comment section, with Tighthead landing the more sour notes:

Tiger comparing himself to Hogan yesterday, and talking about how he didn't have the luxury of playing other events is a perfect example of how he will continually remind us that he is a big, fat phony, string bracelet or not.

12:21 Speaking of that featured group, Tiger remains even for the day, Choi still at +1, leaving them both at -4, 3 strokes behind Freddy.

12:19 I hate to bite the hand that feeds me, but Masters.com has let me down so far today, not following through with their promise of a Featured Group feed at noon. Also, mom, your turkey's dry and rubbery.

12:16 I think you'll see some fair scores today, but not as many red numbers as yesterday. The rain has clearly softened up some of the greens, but the pin positions are noticeably more difficult than in Round 1. The sunshine will take care of the softness, but it's not going to move those flags--look for more bogeys as the day wears on. 

12:14 Freddy continues his par-assault, still -1 through 8.

12:13 Tweeter injennysmind shares my enthusiasm for El Tigre:

Tiger fever is a GREAT thing!!! We all have it here!!!! ;)    

Part of my Tiger-fever was stoked by spending an hour with People Magazine's Steve Helling, who's biography of Woods hits bookshelves in mid May. Most of the details are still under lock and key, but one thing I can tell you is that the book is remarkably even-handed, it's neither a rough-up not a puff piece. Highly recommended read and a great Father's Day present...unfortunately it's not as great for Mother's Day.  

12:10 SI Senior Editor Mark Godich gently chimes in on one of the old-timers out there:

You can scratch Sandy Lyle from the list of geezers who has a chance to win. After an opening-round 69, he is 14 over through 14 holes today.

12:08 Golf Magazine's esteemed Editor (and my boss) David Clarke referred to Nick Watney as an "American Ernie Els" because of his smooth swing. Can't argue with him there (Watney's swing is like butter with his 6'2" frame), but Watney will need about 30 more wins and 40 more pounds before he's a true ringer for Els.

12:07 Nick Watney bogeys 12 and 13 to drop to +2 and fall into danger of not making the cut--SB

12:04 I'm going to warn you all in advance that I've got a serious case of Tiger fever, and the only prescription is your comments.

12:02 Golf Magazine's Steve Beslow here to take you through the meaty underbelly of today's action. Thanks to the always-great Connell Barrett. Not many people know this, but before Connell got his break in golf writing he was a pretty successful child actor. -- SB

11:59am This has been fun. I now leave you in the capable hands of Steve "The Bez" Beslow. He needs no introduction, so I won't give him one.

Enjoy the golf!

11:57am Keep your eyes on Ian Poulter. He's at 5-under for the tournament, 1-under on the day. (His hair is 7-over.) 

11:53am A zinger from reader Cory Workman:

One for the planes...  
 
"Sorry Tiger.. only 18 holes here."


11:47am Tiger made bogey on the par-3 4th, to fall back a shot, at 4-under. He's 9-over on the par-3 4th for his Masters career.

11:43am Leaderboard shuffle: Ricky Barnes just birdied no. 3, to reach 6-under, one stroke behind leader Couples.

11:39am Ryan Moore is wearing a tie! Really. More in a minute. (We bring you the BIG stories here on Golf.com)

11:33am Rough start for Choi, who bogeyed no. 1 and failed to birdie the par-5 second. He falls to 4-under, in a tie for third.

11:31am Tiger is a mere two shots off the lead. I'm wondering if this won't turn into a Tiger runaway by Sunday. Reader Gregg wonders:

If Tiger wins this year, will the Champions dinner next year require a two drink minimum and your drink constantly has to be full?

11:28am "[My back] does feel a little better," Couples just said, according to Golf Channel. After a cold morning, the weather has warmed at Augusta.

11:25am There are now seven players tied for second, as Ricky Barnes has birdied the second hole to join the chase for Fred. Keep tabs on the constantly changing leaderboard here.

11:21am Something to watch for. Freddie's putting with his right-hand low for longer putts (more than 10 feet, or so), and left-hand low for shorter putts.

11:18am And Freddie keeps humming along, playing a solid 1-under round through five holes so far.

11:13am Man, this leaderboard is more stacked than... [insert your own Perkins waitress joke here]. Couples, 7-under, has a 2-stroke lead on six players, including Tiger Woods, who just birdied the second hole to get to 5-under.

11:07am Sports Illustrated golf czar Jim Herre points out a New York Times article today about how Augusta National failed to secure its airspace Thursday, which the club normally does. Now we know why that plane was allowed to buzz the course to try to bug Tiger.

Hmmm. Augusta chairman Billy Payne was surprisingly candid earlier this week in his criticism of Tiger's sexcapades. (Though I wished he'd used the word "sexcapades.") Baseless conspiracy theory: Augusta left its airspace open so that Air TMZ, or whoever, could send Tiger a message. Oliver Stone thinks so.

Just throwing it out there... 

11:02am Tiger parred the first hole. After pulling his drive into the trees, he rope-hooked an iron off of pine-straw, leaving his second shot short of the front bunker. He popped a nippy little pitch-chip to a few inches, and tapped in for par. 

10:57am Watching Golf Channel, and Tim Rosaforte just compared Tiger's return to Hogan's first event back after his 1949 near-fatal auto accident. To paraphrase Dan Aykroyd: "Tim, you ignorant slut!" Hogan came back after being plowed by a Greyhound, shattering his pelvis, collar bone and left ankle. The only thing Tiger shattered is his brand. 

End of rant.

10:52am I feel like we've all played with That Guy -- you know, the one who gripes and complains about his aching back and popping knees, then goes out and gets in your pocket. We're on to you, Freddie! You're the big "E" on the eye-chart.

10:46am Freddie pars the third hole, to keep his 2-stroke lead, at 7-under.

10:43am Tiger pulls his drive left on the par-4 first, leaving himself a poor angle into the green. You're better off approaching from the right-center part of the fairway on no. 1.

10:39am Fred, on the par-5 second hole: Drive center-cut, thumped a long iron just off the green (in two), and cozies a long, lovely chip to even-Sergio-would-make-it range. Birdie. Yeah, some bad back. Poor baby.

10:35am Now on the tee: Tiger Woods.

10:33am Golf Magazine's Eamon Lynch offers this grim omen for Freddie, Tom and the rest of the frost-topped Matlock fans playing today. And he has fightin' words for fellow Golf Magger Cameron Morfit.

I hope Sandy Lyle isn't a harbinger of what the senior citizens will do today. Ten over through eight holes, serving up more doubles than the Wendy's on Washington Road. Would Cameron Morfit like to reconsider his Confidential prediction that Lyle will finish top 20?

10:29am Despite reported back discomfort, Freddie birdied the par-five second hole, to reach 7-under. Sandbagger!

10:24am According to TMZ, today's jokey aerial assault on Tiger will focus on caddie Steve Williams. The plane's banner, in an apparent attempt to distract Woods, will reportedly read, "You Knew, Stevie... You Knew."

Wow, Jack really doesn't want Tiger to break his record.

10:19am Aching back and all, Fred launched a lovely approach iron to the first green. After a tentative birdie downhill putt (safety first), he brushed in a ticklish 3-footer for par. If anyone has the experience to take a mere 10 iron swings on the range, then go out and post a good number at Augusta, it's Couples.

10:14am Brandel Chamblee on Couples, on Golf Channel: "He has a better move through the ball than anybody in the game...he's much better at working the ball right to left... he's a better fit now for this golf course." Adds Chamblee, it would be a terrible shame if the cool, windy weather affected FC's back and by extension his near-flawless swing.

10:10am Sports Illustrated's Gary Van Sickle just made me do a macchiato spit-take with this email:

Predictions for what messages the banner-pulling airplane will fly with today:
"Bootyism, not Buddhism. Get it? Just checking."
"Tiger, I have a daugher who's 21. She says Hi."
"Mr. Payne, I bet you can't shoot down this plane."
"Congrats to Tom Watson for shooting his age--67!"
"Me want food!"
"I got 2 tix--come up and get 'em!"
"Your Name Here."
"Ich bin ein Langer fan."

10:06am Despite apparent tightness and back discomfort, Freddie makes a par on no. 1. He remains the leader at 6-under.

10:04am Couples update! This comes from Golf Channel: Freddie only hit 10 iron shots on the range, due to a sore back. He has a long history with back pain. Today, Couples was jumping up and down trying to loosen up while standing on the first tee, trying to get loose. He's reportedly in some pain.

Then, his opening tee shot on no.1 traveled 50 yards shorter than yesterday's opening shot.

It could be a long day for Fred.

9:59am Few people know Watson's game better than Golf Mag's Eamon Lynch, who has been following the other TW for years. Can Watson, or Freddie, win this thing? Call me a sentimental fool, but I say yes. Eamon, not so much. He writes:

Watson and Couples are great stories, on Thursday. Sunday stories? That's fantasy. They won't win for the same reason, and it has nothing to do with age. There's just no way those putting strokes will hold up over four days on the greens at Augusta National. I'd give Watson better odds of hanging in there than Freddie, whose stroke yesterday had more twitches than a rookie bomb disposal expert cutting his first wire.

9:54am Freddie's avg. driving distance yesterday: 286 yards. It's colder (50s) and breezy today at Augusta, so it'll be interesting to see how Couples' back and swing hold up.

9:49am Writes Andy:

Couples will almost certainly drop off the pace before too long, which leaves Poulter, Westwood and Phil as the main challengers. 

I beg to differ, Andy. Hey, I don't have a crystal ball, but Couples' demeanor is loose, and his game is drum tight. His history at Auguata speaks for itself. I think he stays on the leaderboard all week. And if he makes 3-6 footers, he'll be in the mix Sunday afternoon.

9:44am Golf Magazine executive editor Eamon Lynch -- incidentally, a foremost expert on Tom Watson -- has some overnight ratings, as reported by ESPN. Tiger effect indeed. Yesterday's Masters ratings were up 50 percent from 2009, and up 80 percent from '08.

My theory: The ratings spike is attributed to Tiger's ex-girlfriends tuning in.

9:40am Now on the tee: Fred Couples!

9:39am Check this. For those who say Watson's not long enough to win on Augusta, at age 60... Watson's average drive yesterday: 281 yards. The young, ripped Ricky Barnes: 280 yards. Hmmmmm.  

9:34am Watson's off at 12:25pm. Stand by. I need to check his driving distances. Something tells me, even though he's 60, he's knocking it out there to Furyk/Weir distances off the tee. Not huge, but long enough to win a major. But with a half inch of raining falling last night, the course should be playing longer than Thursday.

9:30am Ten minutes till Freddie, the leader, tees off! How can you not root for him? Thoughts: Can he become the oldest major winner ever? Will he continue putting like he's 30, not 50? Might he sign a lucrative endorsement deal with Odor Eaters? Questions, questions...

9:25am Pop quiz! Circle the correct answer. What is this?

"Colors. Quiet. The calm enveloping the tension. The study in contrasts... to be fully aware of the magic in the air."

a) Harry Connick Jr.'s Masters promo voiceover

b) The fruits of my labor after reading Poetry for Dummies

c) A passage from the new Harlequin romance novel Tiger and Rachel: Forbidden Passion

9:20am Ryan Moore has made an early move, making birdie on the first two holes to creep into the top 15. (This blog post is sponsored by... no one!)

9:15am Couples once candidly told Golf Magazine that he underperformed in his career -- that he was disappointed with only winning one major, the 1992 Masters, with all his talent. And even his '92 win only came with an assist on no. 12 from the golf gods.

I sense that, beneath his easy, sockless exterior, he's dying to win the 2010 Masters, to rewrite the story of his career.

9:09am Thirty minutes to Freddie!

9:04am Apt point from Paul Goydos, who told me last night: Couples has been playing a lot of golf -- seven total rounds on the Champs and PGA Tour. So he's locked in. When was the last time Couples had played seven events entering a Masters?

9:02am Overnight rain, but the forecast is for sun today. Leader Fred Couples tees off at 9:40.

8:57am There's actually golf happening! Nick Watney, currently tied for seventh, made par on the par-4 first. 

8:53am Also onsite at Augusta is Golf.com's David Dusek, who offers his Friday preview. Dave writes:

There are Pterodactyl-size storylines swirling around the media center, but these are the stories that I'll be most-interested in following here today:

Which Phil is going to show up today. When was the last time Mickelson shot a 67 in the opening round of a major, yet had so few people buzzing about it? He tees off late today, so he'll know what Tiger and Freddie shot. Can he post another low score or is he one hole away from shooting himself in the foot?

Can the old guys really keep it going. Is it realistic to think that both Couples and Tom Watson BOTH can continue their run. Tough to say, but it would be an amazing story if they two could stay in contention going into the weekend.

The ‘other' guys. Tiger Woods' round Thursday was very impressive, but playing alongside him, K.J. Choi beat Tiger by a shot. I was also impressed by Matt Kutchar's front-nine 33 and overall 70. I have a feeling that Tiger will play well again, but given to the size of the gallery, will Kutchar and Choi bring the goods again?

8:45am Shocking factoid from Thursday: Tiger's eagle on the par-5 8th was only his second on that hole in his Masters career--and it was his second straight eagle on no. 8. He made a 3 there in the final round last year. 

8:42am We'll get to today's early action soon. Here's an up-to-the-second report from Golf Mag's senior writer Cameron Morfit. Looks like last night's rain may stretch the course. No biggie for Freddie, who is as long as he's ever been. But bad news for shorter hitters like Watson:

Rain fell in heavy sheets shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday, the storm that was predicted to fall much earlier. It no doubt softened the course and will make it much tougher for the short to medium-length hitters. It also cooled the temperature here by about 30 degrees. It's jacket weather this morning, but some of the kids selling badge-holders were still dressed as if this were Cancun. One poor girl in shorts and a sleeveless top stood at the corner of Washington and Berckmans Road, shivering, her arms around her. "You look cold," someone said to her. She stopped her teeth from chattering just long enough to confirm that she was.

8:36am And I'm buying Hank Gola of the NY Daily News a pimento-and-cheese for this Masters round-up lead sentence:

It was Couples Therapy and it has nothing to do with Tiger Woods.

8:32am Time for the Tiger tabloid watch. Props to the NY Daily News copy desk. Some of their T-Dub headlines this morning:

NOW THAT'SPLAYIN' AROUND

BACK WITH A BANG: Tiger returns to golf with his best 1st round ever

MASTER OF HIS DOMAIN

8:28am I'm inspired: I'm blogging in skateboard shoes, sans socks.

8:27am How cool was it watching Jack and Arnie christen the "toonament" yesterday with those opening drives! I'll bet they both had to fight the urge to march down the first fairway and hit their second shots, before realizing, Oh yeah... we're ceremonial. But we can win this thing!

8:23am Eric, I sense Tiger wants to make an effort to be more open and authentic with the media and fans. But the real self is always gonna shine through. Maybe he'll surprise us, but getting deep reflection from TW is like getting a straight answer from the White House press secretary.

8:19am Eric in California was unimpressed by Tiger's post-round press conference yesterday. A whole new Tiger? No way:

I feel like, in the interview room, Tiger kind of reverted to the Tiger of old, and not in a great way.  When someone remarked on his more subdued reactions, why shrug and say, "Then I guess it was" rather than follow up on his earlier promise and say, "Yes, I am consciously trying to be a little less demonstrative and be more respectful of the game."  And when he was asked what Thursday's round meant to him, why say, "It means I'm two shots back" and stonewall the follow-up question, rather than say, "Hey, obviously it was an emotionally loaded day, and it felt great to be in control of my game, it felt great to be back on the course with the guys and with the fans," etc.

8:14am Shameless cross promotion! I totally agree with SI's Joe Posnanski, who writes this about Tiger's controversial Nike ad, and about those who see Woods as a cynical self-promoter:

I think the slickness and undercurrent-of-weird in this commercial will only make them feel more strongly that way.

8:09am I admit it. I didn't think Tiger would play that well yesterday. I predicted a 74 for TW. Nerves, being human, had to have an effect, I thought. But it looked like any other round of golf for him. I like what Couch Commando, and special Golf.com Masters analyst, Paul Goydos had to say: Tiger was done with his nerves once his Monday press conference ended. Yesterday, he was completely comfortable and in his element. Just playing golf. He looked sharp, calm.

8:04am First things first. Tiger, coming off his best opening round ever at the Masters (68), tees off at 10:35am.

8:02amWe're baaaaack. (Sleepy but back.) Welcome to Masters, Day 2. We'll be here with you for ALL the action today, from now through Memorial Day (or so it would seem.) Let's watch some golf, shall we?

Starting at 8 a.m. Eastern, GOLF.com will be live blogging the second round of the Masters. Connell Barrett, Steve Beslow and Jeff Ritter will share the duties on Friday.

You can also read the blog, join the discussion and keep up with our leaderboard in our new Masters Nerve Center. To join the discussion now, you can leave a comment at right or at the bottom of this post.

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