We join Hubert Green, the surprising halfway leader in the $300,000 World Series of Golf with a three-under-par total of 137 (70-67), on the third hole yesterday at the demanding, 7,130-yard Firestone Country Club South Course, which Green insists was not designed for him.
The third is a great par-4, called the "Little Monster," son of the original "Monster," the more fabled 615-yard 16th. The third is downhill and doglegs slightly to the left, with rough and trees lining both sides of a narrow fairway. An ancient oak, 180 yards off the tee, dominates the right side and a pond guards the huge green.
Green is in the last twosome of the elite 26-man field of champions, paired with Severlano Ballesteros, the dashing 21-year-old Spaniard whose 69 was the only sub-par round Thursday. "Seve" is about to start an unsettling stretch of three bogeys in five holes, after which he straightens out and shoots a par-70 for second place, two strokes behind Green and one ahead of Texan Tom Kite (71-69-140).
Washington Lee Elder shoots a second-round 73 to go with an opening 74 for a 147, 36-hole total.
It is warmer and less windy than Thursday, and the breeze has turned around and is coming from the south, making most of the longer holes play downwind. The greens are softer, a little easier to hold, but fairways and putting surfaces alike remain firmer and faster than they have been at Firestone for several years, re-elevating the course to one of the most challenging the pros play.
Green has made a 40-foot birdie putt on the first hole to go one under for the tournament, tied with Ballesteros for the lead.
His drive on the third is short - he is not a long hitter, which is one reason he doesn't think Firestone is for him - and it is slowed by a divot on the left side of the fairway which he examines unhappily on his way past. He pounds it with his driver, and complains to an official when he finds his ball muddy.
Ballesteros - an appealingly daring, long but wild slugger - hits a tree that keeps his drive from flying into the fourth fairway. He is still 30 yards ahead of green, in perfect position.
Green puts his second shot 35 feet left of the pin and makes par. Ballesteros hits a pitching wedge too short, his ball sticking into a bank of mud inches over the pond. He tried to take an uphill stance on the bank, can't, removes his right shoe and sock and rolls up his pants leg as the gallery whistles and cheers his mini-"tease".
After dipping his big toe gently to test the temperature, Ballesteros plunges his back foot in and blasts out to within 10 feet of the hole, but misses the putt and takes bogey.
Green is the new leader. On the par-4, 465-yard fourth, he drives into the right rough, two feet in front of a fairway bunker but the ball is sitting up nicely in a tuft of grass. "Teed it up for me, didn't you?" Green says to a marshall. A "good ole boy" from Alabama, he always talks to his shots, chats with partners and the gallery, flirts good-naturedly with lade scorers.
A spectator asks Green's caddie, "How far?" since the shot to the pin from here is blind.
"A long way," he replies.
Ballersteros is only a few yards to the left, in the rough again - he hit only eight fairways Thursday, six yesterday - but he is on a mound and can see the flag. Green hits his five-wood shot and chastises himself: "Too high, too high." But Ballesteros says, "Good shot."
"Is it?" Greens asks dubiously.
It is, leaving him a 15-foot uphill putt that he sinks, "dead-solid perfect," for a birdie.
Ballesteros, meanwhile, leaves a five-iron shot 45 yards short of the green, hits a sand wedge to 30 feet and takes two putts for a bogey. He trails Green by three strokes, Gil Morgan and Lanny Wadkins - who both finish at 143 with Bill Kratzert - by two at that stage.
But Green gives a stroke back on each of the next two holes while Ballesteros pars them.
On the par-5 fifth, Green hooks a three-wood tee shot short and to the right, leaving himself a difficult pitch to 12 feet, and two-putts for a bogey.
On the 465-yard, par-4 sixth, he drives short into the right rough, between two trees but with a clear shot at the pin. He selects a long iron, then a fairway wood, saying to his caddie, "We can't be into the wind every hole."
He leaves the ball short and left. "Yep," he says disgustedly. "It is in our face every hole." Later he comments that although the wind is weaker than Thursday, "It swirled more."
Green makes a lovely chip to within two feet, right on line, but hurries his putt and lips it out on the right.
"Last time I saw him on TV, on the last hole of the Masters, he missed that same putt," says a man in the gallery. But this one was easier than the three-footer that cost him a tie with Gary Player at Augusta. "I just pushed it" Green says.
After that, however, he does not make another bogey. "I played pretty good golf today, pretty solid all the way around. I never got in bad trouble after five and six," he said afterward.
His iron play and putting were superb as he made three birdies on the back nine, hitting every green but the 14th (he pitched to three feet from the back fringe), holing a five-footer at No. 11, a 15-footer at the "Monster" and a 10-footer on 17.