Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

The Masters: American galleries search for a miracle

It’s official — the good ol’ US of A is officially banjaxed!

With the Federal Government on the verge of an official shutdown because the President and Congress could not agree the required level of cuts to settle the budget, Americans looked to the Masters, traditional domain of Uncle Sam in recent years, for salvation.

They looked in vain. Mind you, it was hardly a propitious start for American supporters as day two unfolded around Augusta National.

A remarkable nine of the top 12 on the first day leaderboard were non-Americans. And by mid-afternoon yesterday, seven of the top 10 were still overseas players.

Taken in conjunction with events in Washington, this alarming state of affairs seemed indicative of America’s current troubles in almost every respect.

No Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney (all very highly fancied runners in the field) or Hunter Mahan in sight. Not even a Phil Mickelson, a man so beloved of this place that every footstep he takes is accompanied by the cry of ‘Phil’ or ‘Go gettum Phil’.

If the American galleries are not shouting at a little ball to do something like stopping or keep rolling, they’re shouting at their own players. It fell to someone called Ricky Barnes from Phoenix, Arizona, a man who has won precisely no PGA Tour victories, to carry, albeit a touch limply, the tattered stars and stripes flag as the 2011 Masters approached the halfway stage.

Barnes got out to 7 under at one point in his second round before finishing with a 71, which put him at five under for the tournament.

If Woods suddenly fired and came home with a 64, those confident smiles and roars for the local boys would be resonating once again around the Augusta acreage.

But at one under after his outward nine holes on the second afternoon — the same score as he’d started the day — Tiger looked in need of some matches to light his fire.

So by mid-afternoon yesterday you had to say it was pretty quiet out there.

Maybe the folks here in Washington Road were more worried about the brinkmanship going on up in Washington DC, than they cared to admit. But there wasn’t the usual buzz around the place.

Even sales of chicken burgers looked slow and that really is bad news in this country. If people here aren’t eating, there must be something seriously wrong.

1992 champion Fred Couples, at 51 one playing veteran who has kept himself in good shape and remains a serious player, did better than any of the other early Americans, shooting a four-under par 68 for a two round tally of 139, five under par.

Ricky Fowler gave them something to cheer. Fowler, starting at one under par, snapped up four birdies in the opening seven holes to make his move. Mickelson missed a birdie putt at the last to reach the halfway mark on two under after carding a 72.

He had four birdies but they were cancelled out by the same number of bogeys while he had seven straight pars on the way home.