Commentary

Time to turn it up at Augusta

Originally Published: April 11, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Anytime this Masters wants to pop the clutch and start doing some doughnuts on Magnolia Lane is OK with me. It hasn't been the Zzzzzzzzz Open, but it hasn't been a Masters worth framing for your man cave, either.

Thursday was fun -- lots of red and roars. Friday was kinda interesting -- said goodbye to the great Gary Player. Saturday was, well, not dull, but nobody had to have their goosebumps treated for overexposure.

Part of the reason is that the world's No. 1- and No. 2-ranked players picked the wrong three days to forget how to go low at Augusta National. Tiger Woods' scorecards reads 70-72-70, which is nice for the Member-Guest, but puts him seven strokes behind co-leaders Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry. The same goes for Phil Mickelson, who at least has one round in the 60s (a 4-under-par 68 on Friday).

[+] EnlargeShingo Katayama
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty ImagesAmid all the possible conclusions Sunday at the Masters, Shingo Katayama and his cowboy hat would make history if the Japanese native won at Augusta. No Asian player has ever won a major.

Tiger and Lefty aren't out of it. In fact, they're still in it, but barely. They need to shoot Jerry Springer's age (65) or even Eric Clapton's (64) -- and then get lots of help from the nine players ahead of them -- to have a chance at this thing.

"But I think it's out there," Mickelson said of a 7- or 8-under final round.

Woods and Mickelson will be paired together Sunday, which means half of Augusta -- and CBS -- will be following their twosome. That's a pairing with muscle mass, a combined six green jackets (four for Tiger, two for Phil) and, who knows, maybe a comeback for the ages in it.

A comeback would add some much-needed caffeine to this tournament, but I'd settle for a Sunday charge or two. So far it's been as compelling as picking out carpet swatches with your wife.

But there's hope. Lots of it. If you're buying the theory that 4-under is at the edge of the Masters go-zone, then that means one of 18 players have a chance of slipping on a new sportcoat early Sunday evening.

Eight guys, including Woods, Mickelson and Anthony Kim are at 4-under. Argentina's Cabrera and Kentucky's Perry are at 11-under. If the winds kick up. ... if the pressure overpowers the nerves. ... if the course set-up is one degree too severe, then we could have a golf rumble here Sunday.

"There's a lot of disasters and catastrophes around every corner on this golf course and you have to be very careful," said Jim Furyk, who sits three strokes off the lead.

I hope so. The more intrigue hiding around corners, the better. Roars are wonderful, and it would be nice to hear lots of them Sunday. But groans have a place at Augusta National, too. Groans mean something is happening.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday were chips and dip. I'm ready for an actual entrée. So far we've gotten Greg Norman and Chris Evert, farewells to Player and Fuzzy Zoeller, weird penalties on Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington, the end of the Paddy Slam hopes, Sergio Garcia's quest to win free drivers for America and Mickelson's unfortunate choice of shirts.

A comeback by Tiger or Phil would turn the week -- and Masters history -- upside down. If one of those guys pull off the golf miracle (only one player has ever won here when trailing by eight strokes after 54 holes; and only one has won after trailing by seven), the entire state of Georgia could suffer from permanent hearing loss. That's how loud it will be.

But if that doesn't happen, there's still plenty of personalities and backstories to pull for.

Japan's Shingo Katayama, who is at 6-under with Todd Hamilton and Rory Sabatini, could become the first player from Asia to win a major. As an added bonus, we'd see how that cowboy hat of his would look with a green jacket. And maybe you'd get a post-round quote like Katayama delivered after Saturday's round.

When asked about the near-perfect weather conditions, Katayama said, "I was able to play golf like the sky today."

So there's that.

Hamilton is in the final year of the five-year Masters exemption he received after winning the 2004 British Open. If he finishes in the top 16, he gets a return invitation. If he wins, he'll buy champagne and smelling salts for everyone. Hamilton has missed seven of nine cuts this season and has won a little more than $36,000. But what a story it would be.

Kim is only the most exciting player to watch this side of Sergio, circa 1999. Tim Clark (4-under) is trying to reverse the curse of winning the Par 3 Contest. Steve Stricker (7-under) and Furyk are grinders extraordinaire.

Cabrera, a heavy hitter with a U.S. Open on his résumé, is a gas to watch. And if you can't root for Perry, you've got a heart as cold as an ice pack.

"You know, I'd like to win, but if I don't win, I'd love to see him win," said Chad Campbell, who's two strokes off the lead.

Perry is 48, so if he wins he becomes the oldest owner of a major. He didn't qualify here last year, didn't play in the U.S. or British opens on purpose, and had to withdraw from the PGA Championship last year. He got barbecued for his decision to skip the two majors and concentrate on the Ryder Cup, which, by the way, he helped the USA win.

His mom is seriously ill. He donates 5 percent of his winnings to Lipscomb University (at $1.4 million and counting for scholarship money). He still lives with the golf pain of losing a PGA Championship playoff to Mark Brooks in 1996.

"I wish I could redo that one over," Perry said.

He gets his chance for a majors mulligan on Sunday. Everyone, from Tiger to Phil, Katayama to Cabrera, Furyk to Kim, etc., all get their chance.

Here's to chaos and chills. It's about time.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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