Augusta, 07 April: Bravery and belief are the salt and pepper to the fine recipe that makes an athlete such a delicious treat. Shubhankar Sharma brought copious quantities of these elements as he played his first ever major event. The puzzling contours of the undulating mounds that pass for greens at the Masters proved frustrating for Shubhankar. The wind messed with his irons and left him scrambling for the right club. In the end, at 7-over through 36 holes, he was two strokes shy of making the cut.
Patrick Reed takes charge from Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth threatened to disrobe Augusta National with some audacious stroke making, but the Masters does not take kindly to audacity.
At just 24, Spieth began his quest for a fourth major title with a fluent 66 on Thursday. The Augusta National though has this mythical ability to plug its own script, almost at will. She bared her claws and scratched so deep, Spieth gave away three strokes before he reached the third tee in the second round.
Patrick Reed, of all people, took the new normal and ran away into the distance with a spectacular performance on Friday. The score was identical to that of Spieth in the first round, but this was a 66 crafted in the swirling winds of Augusta. At 9-under through the halfway stage, Reed has a two-stroke advantage over a persistent Marc Leishman and a massive five over Rory McIlroy and Spieth.
Reed is yet to succeed on the major stages of golf. A top-10 finish in the PGA Championship last year is his best effort yet. But Augusta could just be the right place to start if he can hold it together for two more days. Many summers ago, the 27-year-old helped Augusta State win the national championship back to back as a college kid. That is akin to Sanju Samson helping the Kerala team take the Ranji Trophy two years in a row. Life could come a full circle if Reed can sustain his lead through the 18th on Sunday.
Tiger Woods triumphant, if only in spirit
An exciting world architected Tiger Woods into a front-runner this week. But after a 1000-day hiatus from major championship golf, the mythical mist of the Masters weighed far too heavy even on his clubs. The four-time Masters winner and 14-time major winner may have brought his gilded metal and hopeful gaze, but Augusta was far from impressed.
Tiger will have to settle with making the cut, barely. He slipped in on the edge, at 5-over, with scores of 73 and 75.
“I hit my irons awful today,” was Woods’ assessment of his own game. “I didn’t control my distance, my shape, my spins. I left myself in bad spots.”
But he was quick to put things in perspective too. “Six months ago, I didn’t know if I’d be playing golf,” Woods said. “Forget playing at a Tour level, I didn’t know if I’d ever be playing again. It’s incredible for me to have that opportunity again.”
Happy Shubhankar chooses hope over despair
Shubhankar may have suffered the slice of the blade but was neither bleeding nor bitter. The young man is aware that this is just the beginning of a long journey that promises a meeting with his potential.
“It has been fantastic,” said Shubhankar, moments after he turned in his card of 74 to the officials. ‘I thought I played pretty good, just did not finish the way I wanted to in the first round. But this experience is invaluable. I cannot wait to get back here every year after this. But I will need to play my best to be back here.”
Even in those strained moments, immediately after his round, Shubhankar was speaking with profound clarity. He was happy to admit that he could not bring his game to bear on the Masters. In that ability to admit his failure and accept responsibility are the seeds of a future champion.
Saturday could provide theatrical drama
The weather is set to play a big role on Saturday. The forecast is for rain and thunderstorms, meaning both disruption and dismayed golfers.
It could provide just the perfect setting for McIlroy (-4 through 36 holes). But it will take enormous will and discipline to impose his wet weather skills on an unwieldy course with a mind of its own.
But if he does, it will serve to reiterate his intense desire to do well in these dark and devious woods on a grey weekend.