Friday's Winners And Losers
Immelman made his first bogey of the tournament, at the 6th, when he sent his first putt from 30 feet 40 feet by the hole. But the rest of the day, he put on a display, making five birdies from no longer than 15 feet. The interesting thing about his round is that he didn't even make his move on the easier holes, 13 and 15. Four of his birdies came on some of the hardest holes on the course -- No. 5, 11, 17 and 18. It's a cool story, considering Immelman was flat on his back on Christmas after having a tumor removed from his ribcage area.
Brandt Snedeker and Steve Flesch
Snedeker validated yesterday's 69 with a solid 68 -- and it was the same flavor of round as Immelman's. Snedeker also birdied 17 and 18, and his chip shot on the 6th is the circus act of the week so far. He actually hit the green with his tee shot on the par-3, but had a lobe of rough between him and the hole. So he used a lob wedge to hit a chip shot from the green across a slope, and holed it for a two. Tom Watson called it the best shot he's ever seen. Snedeker looks extremely comfortable in his first taste of major championship pressure. Flesch's 67 today was the best 18 holes anybody has played, both in score (67) and execution. When he came off the course, he said he didn't miss a shot on his way to three birdies and an eagle. He also did it averaging less than 280 yards off the tee.
Mickelson was in much more control for his bogey-free 68 -- which pulled him within three of the lead. And it could have been even better -- he played the back nine in only 1-under. In fact, Mickelson is 4-under for the tournament on the front and 1-under on the back. Now, he can apply even more pressure to the three relatively untested guys above him on the board. Combined, they've played in 10 Masters. Mickelson is playing in his 16th, and he's won two jackets.
After his round, Player said if he hadn't broken 80, he would have retired from competing at Augusta. One of the best sand players in the history of the game hit a fantastic 30-yard bunker shot and got up and down on 18 to shoot 78. We'll see the 72-year-old Player next year, for Masters start number 52.
When the highlight of the day is a wild par save on the 18th -- from the middle of the 10th fairway -- it's probably not the day Woods had in mind. Woods three-putted for bogey on No. 6 and again on No. 10, before birdieing the 13th and 17th to get back to 1-under for the tournament. The 18th pretty much summed up his week so far. He sprayed his tee shot into the tunnel of trees 230 yards down the fairway, then punched out across the tree line on the left into the middle of the 10th fairway. From there, he hit a spectacular pitch shot that banked off a slope -- and Stuart Appleby's ball -- to five feet. He made that for an exciting par. Jim Nantz said, "I've only seen one other player in all my years here play from that spot on this hole. Me." He's seven off the lead, but he's not looking at Immelman or Snedeker. He's aiming for Mickelson, three shots ahead.
Justin Rose and Zach Johnson
Rose has to feel like he should be entering one-day tournaments at this point. For the third time, he's followed a round good enough to be leading on Thursday night with something of a nightmare. Today's freefall was punctuated by a triple-bogey on the 15th, when his layup approach landed in the middle of the creek. Johnson made a similar hash of a stretch between Nos. 6-11, going four over and falling out of contention.
Couples lipped out a birdie putt on the 18th and missed the cut by a shot. It was the first time in his Masters career he failed to qualify for the weekend.
What to Watch for Tomorrow
The radar. The weather forecast is called for a nasty stretch of thunderstorms to come through right around 2 p.m. -- about when the leaders will be going off. The worse the weather is, the better it is for the leaders, because they'll most likely be watching it from the clubhouse instead of playing. Whenever the rain shows up, we're going to see a fundamental change in how the course is playing. The temperature will drop 20 degrees, the wind will pick up, and the rain will make the course play closer to how it did last year. That's an advantage for the longer hitters, because they're relying less on roll. Of the guys in the top 15, Mickelson, Paul Casey (4-under) and Woods are particularly well-equipped for those conditions. It'd be fantastic to see Woods pull closer, both because of the juice he brings to any leaderboard and the potential for a head-to-head with Mickelson. But watching Immelman and Snedeker play so well -- even with the pressure of the second-day lead -- has been great. The game needs an expanded cast of characters and some new stories to tell. Both of those guys are charismatic and interesting enough to stand up to the scrutiny that comes with getting in position to win. Remember Len Mattiace? Didn't think so.