Commentary

Augusta anticipation at halfway mark

Originally Published: April 8, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Five things worth thinking about as this Masters makes the turn.

1. Augusta National Has Just About Had It With Red Numbers

There's more red on this leaderboard than Tiger Woods' Sunday shirt selection.

Rory McIlroy is already in double digits and almost half way to his age (21). Jason Day started Friday at even par and ended it at 8-under, the lowest second round for a first-year Masters participant. Even 51-year-old Fred Couples, bad back and all, shot 68 and is in contention.

Augusta National needs to stop the scoring madness, and quick. The weekend weather will help give the course a washboard stomach. It should get drier, faster and hotter (Saturday forecast: high of 87 ... Sunday: high of 90). And let's hope for some diabolical pin placements -- the kind that will make the pros weep.

2. Tiger Can't Win This Thing, Can He?

A Woods confidante told me Friday morning that Tiger was thrilled with the way he was playing. Didn't matter that he had shot 71 in the first round. He was thrilled with his ball striking and, more important, his putting.

Well, hello -- a Friday round of 66. Does that work?

He was six strokes off the lead after Day1, but is only three back after Day 2. Think that will get somone's attention?

Uh, it got mine. I still don't think he's winning a fifth green jacket this week, but his putter might have other ideas. He sank lots of keepers on Friday and had a nice little bounce in his step.

Yes, I know: I wrote on Tuesday that you'd be wasting your money to put a wager on Tiger to win. Woods didn't get that memo. Or maybe he did. Anyway, the comeback kid spent most of the afternoon pinching the bill of his cap to the applause. In fact, he got a standing O as he walked up to the 18th green.

And then made his birdie putt!

Tiger is at T-3, with K.J. Choi. Why that matters: no Masters champion in the past 10 years has been outside the top five through 36 holes.

A Freddie/Tiger final pairing on Sunday? Or a Tiger/Rory pairing?

Oh, to dream.

3. Couples Can't Win This Thing, Can He?

He's AARP-ish old, but still Boom-Boom long. He's also a bit of a medical sandbagger.

Earlier in the week, Couples made it sound like he'd be nothing more than a ceremonial golfer here, like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. But Arnie and Jack didn't get some timely medical assistance. The result: Couples' golf game isn't feeling any pain.

"It would be the biggest upset in golf history," said Couples, who won here in 1992.

What would he do if pulled off the upset?

"Retiring," he said. "Gone."

Don't laugh. He finished sixth last year and T-3 in 2006.

I'm all for great stories, so I'm rooting for Couples. But I'm also realistic. I don't think his back or his game holds up.

And I'd love to be wrong.

4. Young Guys Alert

Halfway leader Rory McIlroy and his Saturday playing partner, Day, are a combined 18-under. They're also a combined seven years under Couples' age.

Anybody who thinks McIlroy will enter the witness protection program this weekend hasn't been paying attention. His swing should be the PGA Tour logo. And he's learned from his experiences at the British Open and at the PGA Championship.

Day almost looks like he has a pulse. And nobody hits it as pure as Day does. This is his first Masters, so who knows how he'll hold up. His past three tournaments: T-45, T-51 and MC.

And maybe here is where I mention that 22-year-old Rickie Fowler is 5-under. His outfits are 10-under.

5. The Invisible Man

Everybody was talking about Day's second-round 64, and with good reason. It was goosebump good.

But only two strokes behind him on the leaderboard is the other Aussie, Geoff Ogilvy. Unlike Day, Ogilvy owns a major win -- the 2006 U.S. Open (he beat Mickelson after Phil's mental meltdown on No. 18).

No Australian has ever won a Masters. Day and Tiger made all the news Friday, but Ogilvy, who said earlier in the week that he liked how his game was coming around, could make the news Sunday.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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Gene Wojciechowski | email

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