Second Hole Could Be Pivotal on Front Nine at Augusta

The Washington Post's Barry Svrluga provides an update from day one of the Masters at Augusta National.Audio by, photo by Reuters
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 9, 2009; 12:37 PM

AUGUSTA, Ga., April 9 -- The second hole at Augusta National Golf Club was not lengthened three years ago as part of an infamous overall course restructuring that should continue to provide controversy and conversation as the Masters plays out this week. But it is a toothy hole, 575 yards down a long, rolling hill, protected by a bunker on the front left, another on the front right.

But to understand how the modern player handles such a test -- particularly on a pristine day such as Thursday, with the first round of the Masters now underway, sun in the skies and the breeze perfectly gentle -- it's worth taking a stroll out to parts of the course that rarely star on television. On Thursday morning, right there, a thin, broad-shouldered 27-year-old Californian named Nick Watney showed precisely how excitement could return to the Masters if conditions remain as they are now.

Watney, playing in a group with former British Open champion Ben Curtis and Spaniard Miguel Ángel Jiménez, drew his drive down the hill with such overspin that it caught the slope, and it's a wonder it ever stopped. From the left side of the fairway -- a good 30 yards past his playing partners -- Watney took a short iron in to a front pin placement.

The ball bounced and sucked back, and the whispers in the gallery began almost immediately: "He can win this tournament," people were suddenly saying.

Watney completed his front nine in 34, 2 under par, and the eagle he made at No. 2 showed that there are players here who can still stir the gallery. But he also showed that, with just one Masters appearance on his résumé, he is not simply going to overwhelm the course. He gave back those two shots with bogeys on 3 and 4, then came back to birdie both 8 and 9.

With all the talk about how the course will play -- are the high scores from the last two years the result of the lengthening of the course or the horrific weather at the time? -- it will be interesting to watch players such as Watney and Dustin Johnson when they get to the par 5s on the back nine, Nos. 13 and 15. Johnson, a 24-year-old from up the road in Myrtle Beach, S.C., played in the group just after Watney's and also hung a 34 on the board for his front nine.

Will they carry the ball around the corner -- or, perhaps, over it -- at No. 13 and make it an eagle hole again? Will they rip it up there on the 15th? Or will they take the approach Trevor Immelman took on those holes in winning the tournament a year ago, plodding his way -- dare we say, U.S. Open-style -- through three-shot holes, turning magic into machinations?

The modern Masters, and the players who might define it, could be revealed on the back nine in the next few days.

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