AUGUSTA, Ga. - The top 10 conclusions we can jump to at the midway point of the 70th Masters: No. 1 — Chad Campbell is ready to win his first major championship. The 36-hole leader, who not long ago was picked in a poll by his peers to be “the next great player,’’ has the game and the demeanor to win a green jacket.
Asked how he would celebrate his threestroke lead that came on the heels of a 5-under 67 — Friday’s best round — Campbell stayed as cool as Clint Eastwood: “There’s really no need to celebrate. I haven’t accomplished anything yet.’’
No. 2 — If Fred Couples keeps this up, and he doesn’t yip any more short putts, he’ll erase Jack Nicklaus’ record as the oldest winner of the Masters. Ironically, it was 1986 — 20 years ago this week — that Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket in what many feel was the greatest Masters ever. Nicklaus was 46 years and two-plus months, whereas Couples is 46 years and six-plus months. Freddie sits three shots back of Campbell.
No. 3 — Due to the fast and furious conditions, as well as the lengthening and tightening of Augusta National, the tournament is playing more like a U.S. Open than a Masters. If that’s the case, beware of two-time Open champ Ernie Els. “Yeah, that’s the way I want to keep playing it,’’ Els said of his “par is a good score’’ mentality after a second straight 71. “I can see a lot of backtracking over the weekend.’’ Make no mistake, “the Big Easy’’ was not referring to himself.
No. 4 — Tiger Woods’ drive for five (Masters titles) is very much alive. Even though Woods seems to seesaw between 1 over and 1 under, where he currently lurks, you never would guess it. “I’m right in it,’’ said the defending champ who missed four putts inside 8 feet. “With the forecast like it is, and the wind swirling like it is, we’ll see what happens on the weekend,’’ said Woods in reference to a forecast that calls for an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms today with winds in the 15- to 20-mph range.
No. 5 — More than ever there seems to be a Masters disaster around every corner. Just ask Vijay Singh, who one minute was setting the pace at 7 under only to make backto-back double bogeys at the fourth and fifth holes. If that double trouble wasn’t bad enough, the 2000 Masters champ made yet another double at the 13th. “Even with those three doubles, I feel very much in control of my game,’’ said the never-say-die Singh, who despite a 74 is only three shots back.
No. 6 — Phil Mickelson’s double-driver strategy is turning out pretty much like his use of the clubs — 50-50. Asked how he stood in relation to par with each club, he said with a shrug: “I don’t know.’’ For the week, Mickelson has hit 60.7 percent of his fairways, while averaging 301 yards. A little better than average by his standards, just don’t try to sell it to Lefty. “The ‘draw’ driver is 25 yards longer, and I use it where I need to,’’ he said after a 72 left him 2 under.
No. 7 — Of the six holes that were lengthened or changed for this year, the results are mixed with one exception — No. 11. Through two rounds, the first leg of Amen Corner is playing to an average score of 4.505, and has ranked as the No. 1 most difficult hole each day.
Said Mickelson of the change: “There’s 60 (trees) on the right (side) of 11, so instead of having U.S. Open rough, you have a forest. There’s no shot-making ability there anymore. It’s just get the ball back in play and salvage bogey.’’
No. 8 — Despite struggling mightily on the Champions Tour, two-time Masters winner Ben Crenshaw has been reborn this week. The 54-year-old Texan, who won the green jacket in 1987 and ’95, made his first cut in the past 11 years here.
“I’ve never made it a secret that this has always been my favorite place,’’ said ‘Gentle Ben,’ who remained at 1 under after a 72. “I’m just elated I made the cut. I don’t know where this week is going to lead, but I’ve had so much fun.’’
No. 9 — Chris DiMarco, last year’s runner-up to Woods, was a year too late with his spectacular eagle at the 18th hole. DiMarco sent the fans into a frenzy in Round 2 when he canned a 6-iron from 177 yards.
Asked what he would have traded for that eagle a year ago, DiMarco shoved his 10-year-old son Christopher — his first born — toward a reporter. “See you, boy. . . . No, I’m just kidding. It just wasn’t meant to be,’’ said DiMarco, who missed the cut after ending up 6 over.
No. 10 — Charles Howell III is overrated, and despite his Augusta roots, still has a thing or two to learn about the “home course.’’
Howell, unbelievably, took four strokes to get out of a greenside bunker at No. 11 on his way to a quintuple-bogey 9, as an 83 left him 19 over and tied for dead last with 68-year-old Charles Coody. The bunker fiasco at the 11th even led to a new nickname, as in “Charles Howell IV”.