Golf: Bladon races to join ranks of green men

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The Independent Online
Grateful that Augusta National was playing at less than its most fearsome, as it did on Thursday, Warren Bladon took advantage with a second-round 72. At seven over, the continuing presence of the British Amateur champion in the 61st US Masters was in the hands of the cut. Similarly, his switch to the professional ranks, when the unemployed Midlander can start paying off the pounds 7,000 it has cost to bring six of his family and friends out here, was either going to come today or on Monday.

Bladon, when he had a birdie on the second on Thursday, was briefly the leading European but he came home in 42 for a 79. Yesterday, with the greens slightly slower and the pins not tucked away on ski-jump like slopes, Bladon decided to take whatever came his way. "I thought I needed a couple under today to make the cut, but I wanted to take it easy and not chase the birdies as I did yesterday," Bladon, who was in line for low amateur honours, said.

"I am pleased with a level-par round. Before you come here you worry that you are going to make a fool of yourself, but I saw Greg Norman yesterday have a three-foot par-putt, and then a 35-footer for bogey, so it happens to everyone. I would love to play the course again, but I have had a great week and played with some nice people. It beats working for a living."

Bladon, who walked off the course after nine holes of practice with Jack Nicklaus because he was tired, played with Arnold Palmer on Thursday and Raymond Floyd yesterday. Palmer improved from 89 to 87 and his aggregate of 176, or 32 over par, was his worst Augusta performance by 16 strokes. By the time the four-times winner got to the 18th, the scoreboards were not displaying his score.

Palmer, 67, underwent surgery for prostate cancer earlier in the year and the only figures that interest him were from the tests he took last week which came back clear. "I didn't want to make a big deal out of playing here, because others have been through what I have been through, but if I can be an inspiration to others, that's fine," Palmer said.

Albeit with one proviso: Palmer defended the way the course was set up on a bizarre opening day. The first round scoring average was 76.09, the highest since 1988 and the fifth highest since 1960. "The course played as it used to 40 years ago," Palmer said.

"The ball always used to bounce on the greens. In recent years, players have got used to soft greens where the ball stops. The only difference is that the speed of the greens did not used to be as fast. Is it playable? There's a young man who shot 30 for the back nine so, yes, it's playable."

When Tiger Woods went to the turn in 40, he seemed to be struggling like everyone else. There was no sign he was about to return his first sub- par round in seven outings around the National. Then, he tightened up his swing and made his playing partner, the three-times champion Nick Faldo, look merely mortal with his 75. Woods was only one shot outside Mark Calcavecchia's back nine record of 29.

Faldo, like the vast majority of the field, never came to terms with the greens. Woods, meanwhile, did not look like he was facing "potential disaster on every shot and every putt," as Colin Montgomerie had said after his 72. Woods proved that it is still possible to overpower the course, as Jack Nicklaus used to do in the 60s and 70s.

Faldoesque precision is still important, but so much easier to achieve when you are hitting a pitching wedge into the par-five 15th and a half wedge into the 17th. Woods's drive at the 15th was 352 yards and meant he could hit a full wedge shot from a flat lie. His approach stopped four feet from the hole and he sunk that for an eagle.

The turnaround started at the 10th, where the 21-year-old holed from 15 feet. At the short 12th, he chipped in from behind the green and the par-five 13th was a two-putt birdie. With the 12-foot birdie putt at the 17th, Woods found himself fourth behind John Huston, Paul Stankowski and Paul Azinger.

Despite Woods' dramatics, he did not take the headline in yesterday's Augusta Chronicle. "Huston, the eagle has landed," the paper reported. With one of the last blows of the day, Huston, from almost on the 10th fairway after his drive hit a tree, holed his five-iron shot at the 18th from 190 yards. It was only the fourth two at the closing hole in Masters history.

"There was quite an adrenaline rush," Huston, all of whose three US Tour wins have come in Florida, said. "Then there was the relief of not having to putt." It was not his only piece of fortune in his five-under 67. At the 15th, he sliced his drive but it hit a buggy and rebounded on to the fairway. Then his second shot, which pitched on top of the bank at the front of the green, stopped its inevitable descent into the water at the bottom of the slope, right on the hazard line.

US MASTERS (Augusta): Early second-round scores (US unless stated): 155 S Ballesteros (Sp) 81, 74. 159 R Allenby (Aus) 82, 77; B Casper 82, 77. 160 S Jones 82, 78. 160 C Coody 83, 77. 161 K Green 87, 74. 162 L Roberts 85, 77. 163 G Brewer 84, 79; J Miller* 82, 81. 176 A Palmer 89, 87. 179 D Ford 85, 94.

* denotes amateur