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Archive for Saturday, April 7, 2007

Three find way to go low

Tough conditions don’t bother Casey, Harrington, Kelly

April 7, 2007

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— All this moaning and groaning about how hard Augusta National is? How impossible conditions are? How it hasn't played this tough in years?

Don't go there with Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington and Jerry Kelly. They managed to get it done.

Casey and Harrington fired 4-under 68s Friday, the low rounds of the Masters so far, while Kelly posted a 3-under 69 despite a bogey on the last hole. Kelly is tied for fourth, two strokes behind leaders Brett Wetterich and Tim Clark (142). Harrington is at 145, and Casey is five strokes off the lead.

"This golf course always gives you a chance to shoot a good score," said Harrington, who even had a double-bogey on his card, on the par-4 No. 7. "There are possibilities of making birdies as long as you keep your momentum going and you don't have a mishap. That's the great thing about this course."

After Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the other big hitters started making Augusta's grand old course look like a pitch-and-putt muni, Masters officials exacted their revenge. They've added 520 yards since 2002 alone - that's equivalent to a par-5 hole - and the course now measures a super-sized 7,445 yards.

But there had yet to be a true test of the green jackets' new monster. Rain each year softened things up. While that made the course play longer, it also made the greens more forgiving and took a bite out of a signature part of the course.

This year, though, there hasn't been any rain. The fairways are firm and the greens are as hard as nearby Washington Road. Throw in swirling winds and cool conditions, and Augusta has turned into quite the beast.

"It's been a long time since anybody has seen it play like this," Kelly said. "I've played extremely patient, which is not my M.O. But it has to be around here. Otherwise, it's going to eat your lunch."

Look at some of the scores posted so far. An 87 by rookie Casey Watabu. Two scores in the 80s by two-time champion Seve Ballesteros. Three-time major winner Ernie Els went 78-76 and missed the cut.

Even Casey shot a 79 in the first round.

"I had put myself in a position where I had to shoot a decent number today," said Casey, who tied for sixth here in 2004 and missed the cut the following year. "I thought it had to be at worst, level par. Anything better was great. And it is better, so it's great."

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