Friday morning at Augusta National reminded of some of the duck hunting days we used to have in early fall. It was chilly with low, grey clouds and the winds gusting. As the morning progressed the clouds cleared and the temperatures started to warm a bit as the wind died. I headed out to the course to watch some of the early players.
Augusta missed the latest rains, so the course had a chance to dry a little, but the "Slippery When Wet" signs remained. The slopes at Augusta are a lot steeper than you can see on TV.
A practice green is a short distance behind the No. 1 Tee. It really is handy for the golfers and for the spectators. I watched Keegan Bradley (reigning PGA Champion) and Miguel Angel Jimenez (18 international wins and the one with the pony tail sticking out of his cap) try a left-to-right breaking putt from about 12 feet and they hit about 10 putts before one of them made it. On hole 18, Lee Westwood had about a 12 footer downhill and three-putted for a double bogey that cost him the lead. Augusta greens are the trickiest in the world!
So the buzz around Augusta is Freddie Couples. Everybody including the players really like Fred. If the other players can't win, I think they would like to see Fred win. In his post-round interview, Fred said he just loves this place and looks forward to coming here every year. Fred is 52 years old and the oldest champion in Masters history was Jack Nicklaus at 46. I would love to see some Masters history made this weekend!
I wanted to follow Tiger for a few holes, but when he tees off the fairway looks like a surf wave. The crowd heads down the side of the fairway and runs into the fans that are already surrounding the green. It is really kind of unreal!
And then there is Phil Mickelson - two over par on Thursday and goes out and shoots 68 on Friday to get right back in the hunt. Couples noted that Augusta is like Phil's park. He just goes out and enjoys it and has fun hitting shots over ponds and trees.
Rory McIlroy talked about his round and how he is driving the ball better this year. He is mature well beyond his years and said that his attitude on the course has gotten a lot better.
Sergio Garcia was a player that really impressed me. I used to think he was a little too arrogant. After listening to him for about 15 minutes, I realized that is not the case. He is a humble young man with a huge amount of talent that would really like to win the Masters.
So heading into Saturday there are two Americans leading the Masters, Fred Couples (72-67) and Jason Dufner (69-70). Five other players are close behind at four under, four at three under and eight at two under. The cut is five over par, so one superb round could put anybody back in the hunt.
One thing is very consistent as I listen to the greatest players in the world. They all say, they can only play their game and try and shoot the best score possible. They cannot control anything else and what happens happens. They also all agree that Augusta is a great, fun place to play and they absolutely love playing here during the Masters.
Steve Kottsick is the golf professional at Souris Valley Golf Course. He is writing a column each day from the Masters.