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Masters Column: Weather, low amateur grab headlines during Masters Week

(Disclaimer: Any opinion expressed in this column is that of its author)

(Featured image by Charmain Z. Brackett, 2018)

The 87th Masters started as it always does, with Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson hitting ceremonial first tee shots down one fairway. After that, however, intrigue and drama crept into the tournament immediately. 

Tied for first at -7 through the first day of play was Norwegian Viktor Hovland, Spaniard Jon Rahm and American Brooks Koepka. The latter left the PGA Tour in 2022 to play for LIV Golf, a Saudi-funded golf league commissioned by Greg Norman. It was unclear throughout much of last year if golfers that left the PGA Tour to play for LIV Golf would be allowed to play in major championships, but one by one, each governing body (Augusta National Golf Club, The PGA of America, USGA, and British R&A announced that players eligible for their events by past accomplishments (like previous major wins, of which Koepka has four) would indeed be able to play in this year’s majors. 

The golfers that left for LIV were question marks coming into the first major of the year, as they have not competed against top PGA Tour talent in months. However, Koepka, winner of the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Open and 2018 and 2019 PGA Championship, was atop the leaderboard just the same after the first day of play. He would fire a -5 round on Friday before the worst of the weather hit to hold the outright lead at -12. The remainder of the golfers on the course battled through rough conditions throughout Saturday morning to finish up. The early wave had a consecutive score to par of +18. The late wave scored +88, so a huge advantage for those that got to go out early on Friday.

READ MORE: Masters Column: LIV, course changes and old favorites

Friday’s announcement

Play was called in the afternoon on Friday due to rain, lightning and wind. The conditions reached a critical mass with three large trees toppled over near the 15th hole’s green and the 17th tee. No injuries were reported even as dozens of people were standing by the trees as they fell. Grounds crew began to cut up and remove the trees immediately, as well as cutting down nearby trees that were affected in the fall.

Right behind Koepka and Rahm on the leaderboard is amateur Sam Bennett, a 23-year old Texas A&M student from Madisonville, Texas Back to back rounds of 68 for an -8 score are the best by an amateur at a major championship since Ken Venturi (-9) at the 1956 Masters.

“Now, low-am is kind of gone… I’ve got a golf tournament I can go out there and win,” Bennett said after his second round performance.

The final grouping on Saturday will be made up of Koepka at -12, Rahm at -10, and Bennett at -8. Koepka and Rahm set a record, being the first pair of players to have double digit scores under par before the start of the third round. 

Tiger Woods made the cut on the number for his 23rd consecutive made cut at the Masters. He’s now tied Gary Player and Fred Couples for the longest streak. Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, became the oldest player to make the cut at the tournament at 63 years, six months and five days. Notable players to miss the cut were last year’s runner-up, Rory McIlroy, and the reigning PGA Champion, Justin Thomas.

Augusta native Tyler Strong works in broadcast operations for the PGA Tour and CBS Sports. He’s freelanced golf coverage for several years.

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