Darren Clarke reacquainted himself with the major leaderboard and some rather big names in the second round of The Masters here yesterday. And after what the Ulsterman has been through in the last few years this was, indeed, an emotional reunion.
There were no tears, though - not from his eyes anyway - just a simple nod that his unarguable talent has returned him to a place where he should really be a permanent resident. But despite his 70 transporting him to two-under and well inside the top 10, just four back from the early leader, Chad Campbell, Clarke confessed it may well be a temporary visit. Heather Clarke is still fighting cancer and that is inevitably where her husband's focus lies. In a way, however, this stark reality has freed him up from the burden that used to weigh down his professional life.
Speaking after a round when he avoided striking bogey on a sunbaked course where that figure was becoming all too prevalent, Clarke revealed a new philosophy that has been forged by his dire family circumstances. "I'm more patient than I've ever been," said the 37-year-old who used to blow up with infuriating regularity.
"You know sometimes when you get completely away from the game, it brings back what it is really important and golf ain't that important. Now, if I make a mistake, I make a mistake. Take the 13th where I was between a six- and seven-iron, misjudged the breeze and put it into the hazard. Before I would have got perturbed to say the least. Now I just walk up, chip it to three feet and make par."
There were a couple of birdies chucked in with the scrambles, too; on the par-four ninth and the 18th where he stuck his nine iron from 152 yards to three feet. It was relaxed holiday-type golf, born of the last week spent in the Bahamas with Heather. The mother-of-two is still there and so, in essence, is Darren's game. "My ball-striking is exemplary and that maybe has something to do with Abaco [the Bahamas resort]," he said. "I've forgotten what I should be doing and just gone out and hit it. I am very comfortable out there."
It was a telling comment as Augusta was like finding comfort on a bed of nails yesterday. Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, for instance, both bled a little in their 71s. Neither was disastrous as the Californian sneaked to within three of Campbell and the South African to within four. But both could have been; for Mickelson when he found water on the 11th and for Els when he stumbled to a six on the par-four 10th. Mickelson produced a trademark flop shot to escape with a bogey at the site of his own prospective calamity, while Els gripped on after his to par in.
Both are still in contention, for while Campbell is no bum, as his 67 showed, even the man himself is aware of the fragility of his position. "We've got a lot of golf left," said the 31-year-old who knocked out Tiger Woods in February's WGC Match Play. "You've got to accept that you're probably going to have a double somewhere."
Or in Vijay Singh's case, two in a row, on the fourth and fifth just as he threatened to slip the field, but it said something of the tight nature of proceedings that the Fijian remained with three of Campbell with seven to play.
Woods, meanwhile, was only six back after birdieing and bogeying his way to the 10th to maintain his overnight level-par total.
There was still plenty of quality for the world No 1 to leapfrog, though, not least Ben Crenshaw who continued his own trip of memories down Magnolia Lane by making putt after putt in his 72 to remain at one under. The 54-year-old looked on the verge of breaking down with the emotion of it all when landing one bomb on the 17th. Whether this dream can go on unfolding promises to be a central feature of the weekend.
But so, too, does the European effort to end its 25-major famine. Clarke was not on his own up there. Padraig Harrington is on one under after a 70, which is some recovery after being five-over after seven holes of his first round. The Dubliner talked afterwards of being "aggressive", while Els suggested that "careful" was a more appropriate gameplan. The contradiction was confusing but then there was plenty to baffle here.
For a start, there was still the inexhaustible controversy surrounding the course-lengthenings. Does it favour the long-hitters, the short-hitters or nobody? The jury is still out - in fact it has been sent home for the weekend - although that the Augusta authorities are worried themselves that the course could go "over the top" was hinted at in their decision to move the fourth tee some 50 yards closer to the par-three green. The wind blew a bit yesterday, making it tricky but by no means impossible. They were plenty proving and disproving that truth.
Charles Coody did the former. How is it that a 68-year-old whose previous last three rounds at the National read 88-83-88 could post the same score as Sergio Garcia and beat Colin Montgomerie by one? Coody's 74 stood out as starkly as David Duval's quintuple bogey 10 on the second hole yesterday. It would be unfair to point out which of these was totally unexpected.
Scores from Augusta
US unless stated
* denotes amateur
Early second-round scores
Early second-round scores
C Campbell 71 67
D Clarke (NIrl) 72 70, P Mickelson 70 72, E Els (SA) 71 71
N O'Hern (Aus)
71 72, B Mayfair 71 72, P Harrington (Rep Irl) 73 70, O Browne 74 69, B Crenshaw 71 72
S Ames (Can) 74 70, S Verplank 74 70, J Bohn 73 71
J Leonard 75 70, B Curtis 71 74, S Cink 72 73, G Ogilvy (Aus) 70 75, S Katayama (Japan) 75 70, D Love 74 71, R Pampling (Aus) 72 73
Z Johnson 74 72, C Pettersson (Swe) 72 74, S Appleby (Aus) 71 75, S Garcia (Sp) 72 74, A Scott (Aus) 72 74
T Herron 76 71
M Hensby (Aus) 80 67, A Cabrera (Arg) 73 74, L Mize 75 72
T Purdy 72 76, B Jobe 72 76, T Bjorn (Den) 73 75
B Bryant 76 73, C Montgomerie (GB) 74 75, T Levet (Fr) 78 71, B Crane 74 75
L Westwood (GB) 75 75, P Lonard (Aus) 76 74, C DiMarco 76 74
J Ogilvie 74 77, L Glover 73 78
S O'Hair 76 76, S Micheel 82 70, K J Choi (S Kor) 76 76
B Langer (Ger) 79 74, J Daly 74 79
M O'Meara 82 72
C Stadler 77 78
F Funk 76 81
D Duval 84 75
*K Marsh 79 81
S Lyle (GB) 80 81
C Coody 89 74
V Singh (Fiji)
T Clark (SA)
R Goosen (SA)
D Howell (GB), M Weir (Can), F Couples
M A Jimenez (Sp), D Toms, T Woods
R Allenby (Aus), J Furyk
T Hamilton, L Donald (GB)
T Immelman (SA), V Taylor, M Campbell (NZ)
76 (4-over) R Sabbatini (SA), T Lehman, J M Olazabal (Sp). 77 (5-over) I Woosnam (GB), H Stenson (Swe). 78 (6-over) F Zoeller, P McGinley (Irl), T Jaidee (Thai). 79 (7-over) N Faldo (GB), R Floyd, G Player (SA), T Watson, S Maruyama (Japan). 80 (8-over) C Howell III, *B McElhinney (Irl), M Calcavecchia, *E Molinari (It). 82 (10-over) *D Dougherty. 83 (11-over) *C Ogden.