It was apt on a chilly morning in Georgia that we should see a “snowman”. Unfortunately for Danny Willett, that golfing term for an 8 wasn’t the way the defending champion had been looking to start his second round. A dreaded shank contributed to Willett’s woe, though, in fairness, the Yorkshireman wasn’t the only one to be bitten on a hole called “The Tea Olive”.
Angel Cabrera, the 2009 champion, ran up a 7 two groups behind Willett. Another winner here, Vijay Singh, signed for a 6, as did Open champion Henrik Stenson, US Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk and Jason Dufner. Not the start the 2013 US PGA winner had been looking for as he tried to build on being among just 11 players to finish in red figures after day one.
Willett probably wished he could have been turning the clock back to when he hosted Tuesday night’s traditional Champions Dinner as the Yorkshireman made his nightmare start. In fairness, he was faced with an awkward stance on the edge of a fairway bunker for his second shot. It was the one that golfers deem unmentionable. As is the case on most occasions with a shank at any level, it proved damaging.
From in the trees, he pulled off a good escape only to see it just run off the left-hand side of the green. His first chip from there didn’t get up the slope and ended up back at his feet. The next attempt went over the other side of green. Almost inevitably, after chipping up to six feet, he missed the putt.
It was a demoralising start for the 28-year-old. It followed a 6 at the same hole the previous day. He also took 6 at the second on Thursday before fighting back to card a respectable 73. That good work was undone, though, by a miserable 445-yard walk.
The first had been the most difficult hole in the testing opening-day conditions with an average score of 4.548. That was higher than its toughest event average in 2007. At midday in the second round, it was up close to 5. The problems were two-fold. It was playing straight into the teeth of a west north-westerly wind blowing between 15-20mph. That resulted in many struggling with their opening tee shot, including Rory McIlroy, who was nearer the ninth fairway than the first one after a pull.
Then there’s the traditional front-left second-day hole location on a green that doesn’t have a flat bit on it. It might have been receptive 24 hours earlier but not when it’s been dried by a combination of a sub-air system then high wind. Even the shortest putts are treacherous, as McIlroy knew all too well after seeing his third shot go past the hole. It cost him a bogey, a common score on many scorecards.
One of his playing partners would gladly have accepted that. Japan’s Hideto Tanihara ran up a 7 after thinning one from through the back into a bunker and taking two to escape from it. Spaniard Jon Rahm, the third player in that group, made a par that Seve Ballesteros would have been proud of. In the trees on the left with his drive, he produced a recovery that raised a “no’ bad shot” reaction from one Scottish voice in the crowd. Rahm then produced the chip McIlroy had been hoping for before converting a close-range putt. Compatriot Sergio Garcia also holed one a bit earlier, his for a birdie. Just one was made at the hole in the entire first round.
They say, of course, that the Masters doesn’t really start until the leaders get on the back nine on Sunday. However, getting past the first without feeling as though you are heading for the next tee on a stretcher could also be a factor on this occasion.