AUGUSTA, Ga. — Two days after rain delayed the Masters and softened the course at Augusta National Golf Club, the tournament will enter its penultimate round around 10:30 a.m. Eastern on Saturday.
Tiger Woods, the defending champion, is searching for his sixth victory at Augusta. Other former winners, including Danny Willett and Phil Mickelson, will play their rounds with viable hopes of contending through the weekend.
And the weather in Augusta is supposed to be about as good as any golfer could hope for: sunny, with a high of around 70.
The kids are all right.
Look up and down the leader board, and you will see names you have long known, loved and/or reviled: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods.
But the tournament’s top ranks include plenty of players making their inaugural appearances at the Masters, including Abraham Ancer, who is 29 years old and tied for first at 9 under par. Sungjae Im, 22, is at 8 under. Sebastián Muñoz will turn 28 in January, but will enter the third round at 6 under.
Ancer, whose framed Masters invitation hangs in his living room, first played Augusta National last week and found some of the terrain more challenging than it had seemed on television. He played 27 holes that day — good practice, it turned out, for Friday, when he had to go 25 after Thursday’s rain delay.
“I didn’t want to get here for the first time ever this week and being like, you know, really excited,” said Ancer, who shares the lead with Johnson, Thomas, Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith. “I wanted to feel like I was here and I’ve been here before and it was more normal.”
History does not give first-time Masters players great odds of winning: It has happened three times, including at the first and second tournaments. The only player to manage the feat after 1935 was Fuzzy Zoeller, who won in 1979.
Bernhard Langer, 63, becomes the oldest golfer to make the Masters cut.
Let’s talk about Bernhard Langer.
And, yes, he played much of his best golf during the Reagan administration, when he won his first Masters title and contended at the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. Now, Langer, 63, is the oldest man to make the cut at the Masters, narrowly seizing the record from Tommy Aaron, the 1973 champion. (Former Masters winners have lifetime entry into the tournament.)
“My knees are shot right now,” Langer said on Friday, when he had to finish his rain-delayed first round and play his second. “My wife just said, ‘You’re not going to hit balls, are you?’ I said, ‘No, no chance. I’m done.’”
Langer, though, is one of the standard-setters for younger golfers who wonder what their careers might look like in a decade or two or three. Just on Thursday, Tiger Woods mentioned Langer as one of the game’s elders who can still find ways to stay in the mix at Augusta National.
“So understanding how to play it is a big factor, and it’s one of the reasons why early in my career that I saw Jack contending a lot, I saw Raymond contending late in his career, now Bernhard and Freddy always contend here late in their careers,” Woods said. “Just understanding how to play this golf course was a big part of it.”
Langer is decidedly not playing Augusta in the way of DeChambeau, whose towering drives nearly drove him out of the tournament. The course, Langer said, hardly makes him feel younger.
“It actually makes me feel older when I play with these young guys and I see how far they hit it and how short I hit it,” Langer, whose drives in the first two rounds averaged 264 yards. (DeChambeau, 27, has been going about 328, while Phil Mickelson, 50, has averaged nearly 299.)
“I like this golf course,” Langer said. “I think I know how to get around it, even though I hit very long clubs. But it’s certainly not easy.”
Told Friday that he was a virtual lock to make the cut and take Aaron’s record, Langer replied, “How about that? I’ll drink to that.”
He was planning a Shandy.
Players are figuring out No. 5.
No hole gave players more trouble in 2019 than the one christened Magnolia, which Augusta National had lengthened by 40 yards. This year, the men pursuing a green jacket are proving far better at solving No. 5.
There were 103 bogeys on the hole last year — four of them by Tiger Woods, who won the tournament anyway — and six double bogeys. The hole surrendered just 13 birdies over the tournament, when no other on the course gave away fewer than 20.
Through most of two rounds this week, the field has managed 11 birdies, 37 bogeys and one double bogey, aided by experience and course conditions.
“With that top tier being a lot softer this year, coming in here from a little bit further back, being able to hold it in that back section makes that green play a hell of a lot bigger.,” said Danny Willett, who won the Masters in 2016 and bogeyed No. 5 twice last year before missing the cut.
This year, Willett, who is at 7 under, made par there the first two rounds.
“Usually you’re coming in there trying to just pitch it over that downslope and then hope that it stays short of the back bunker,” he said on Friday, “but with it being softer this year, your only real bad miss there is short where it’s going to be a tricky putt up and over.”