Augusta was already in a tumult over the visit of a 14-year-old schoolboy to the headmaster's office. Slow play was the offence; we are all equal before the law, sonny. The one-shot sentence handed down to Guan Tianlang drew the eye from a second storm gathering on the course, a tornado by the name of Tiger Woods.
The world No 1 was in the penultimate group fulfilling the needs of prime time TV. The course was emptying as evening descended but this day was far from done. Playing the 15th with a share of the lead on five under par Woods fired his approach at the pin. The galleries knew it was good. It was. Too good. The ball smashed into the flagstick and spun back cruelly into Rae's Creek.
The 15th coronation of Woods at a major tournament has been the dominant theme of the week; the greatest golfer of the era climbing off the deck of personal scandal to reclaim the hallowed territory of Masters champion. This is what the galleries want and legend demands. And here was Woods delivering as only he can. What does he do next? He takes his medicine and pitches to three feet for bogey. The response was as instructive as his move through the field since it was made of the same stuff.
Three birdies in four holes on the outward nine gave him a share of the lead. The merchandising halls at the centre of the complex can set their tills by the Woods clock. The floor suddenly clears, the exodus towards the nearby ninth green triggered by the approach of the game's biggest draw.
Woods had everyone's attention now. His birdie putt up the hill at the ninth slid narrowly wide. At the 10th he came up a foot short. He was attacking the pins on a day when the course had taken a little back following the barrage of birdies in the opening round. The Guan fanclub was on pins. Freddie Couples and the Australian Marc Leishman were in the shack at five under, a score that guaranteed Guan's participation across the weekend. Leishman's countryman Jason Day made a charge of his own with lead-equalling score of five under through 15 holes.
Woods had the potential to apply a knockout blow to the official caution. Seven under would do it. At least the partial calamity at 15 eased "The Kid's" burden. He did wrong but did not deserve to have Woods playing like a god in the role of god.
For the second day the course was kinder to the afternoon starters. The grey pallor that hung over Augusta at dawn had lifted inviting the players to shine. Lee Westwood and Justin Rose took advantage to close on three-under par, with Rory McIlroy one further back on two under alongside first day bolter David Lynn.
"Solid day," said Westwood, who birdied the last for a 71. "I did what I needed to do in the conditions. I hit it in the right places a lot of the time and not in the wrong places very often. I was plodding my way around the golf course like you have to when it gets tricky around here."
Rose was similarly content. "I just need to warm my putter up. I haven't made a putt in two days and I am where I am. So I'm very encouraged by that," said the world No 3, who also tapped in for a 71 following birdie at the last. "I feel like I played very well the first two days and just waiting for that blade to warm up."
Overnight leader Sergio Garcia's mood changed with the morning weather. The first 10 holes on Thursday had been his best at the Masters he said in the euphoria of his opening 66. There was every chance yesterday would be different. That is how it is in this phase of a career that remains essentially unfulfilled.
Garcia had plausible birdie putts on the first and second but neither hole would yield. The third was not the disaster it might have been after finding sand off the tee. This is arguably the most pernicious hole on the course, following as it does a tough opener and far-from-straightforward par-five second. At 350 yards it is the shortest par-four on the card. The bunker left is a cruel foil which draws tee shots seeking to avoid the protruding pines that line the right.
The smart play is an iron off the tee down the middle. Garcia went with a big stick and caught the furthest point of the trap. From there he splashed out short and ran back down the hill. With the pin front right he was doomed from there. His pitch went through the green and down the back, leaving him another beast of a chip. Let's just say he was thrilled to see his 10-foot par putt disappear.
"The beauty and the bad thing about this game is that it can have such highs and such lows, because it's a lot more mental than some of the other games. The most important thing is to make sure that you learn from them," he said while reflecting on Thursday's high.
As bewitching as this place is the pursuit of perfection can be a drain. Needing to get on to recover his loss, Garcia was forced into a bus queue at the fourth, held up by ground staff hoovering leaves off the green between matches. When his turn finally came he compounded the mistake at three with another to fall back to four under par.
He was unlucky here, falling victim to late change of mind over club selection. His tee shot was straight at a pin precariously placed on the front edge of the green harrowingly close to the bunker guarding it. This is where Spanish totem Seve Ballesteros played one of the great escapes flashing a wedge at the same pin position to two feet after a horrible tee shot, short and right. Garcia found the trap but could not get up and down. He steadied to reach the back nine without incurring further damage, but a bogey at 11 triggered a downward spiral that led to a second round 76.
Masters veterans Couples and Angel Cabrera rushed into the space vacated by Garcia, the former leading in the clubhouse on five under after a round of 71 and the latter one shot back thanks to a nifty 69 that evoked memories of his win here four years ago.Reuse content