It turns out that the oldest bromide about the Masters is off by
two days. The tournament really starts on the back nine on Friday.
Long before the dramatics of the final round can unfold, the
Masters is shaped by the 36-hole cut--who slips in and who slips
on the banana peel. This year Friday was even wilder than usual,
as the gales that blew through Augusta sent scores soaring and
produced the highest cut of the go-go '90s, a six-over-par 150.
(The record high is 10-over, in 1982.) The race to make the cut,
what Gary Player calls "the tournament within the tournament,"
had the kind of sprawling drama associated with the other big
event of the spring.
"It was like March Madness out there," said Paul Stankowski
after making a tricky eight-footer for par on the 36th hole that
prevented what would have been the biggest upset of the second
round. An opening 70 had landed Stankowski a spot in Friday's
final threesome, but eight bogeys and a double later he came to
the last hole thinking he needed a birdie to advance to the
weekend. A hooked approach shot left him an impossible chip, and
after running a bold attempt by the hole, Stankowski turned to
his caddie and said, "Hey, at least we'll be home for Easter."
He then brushed in the ensuing putt for an unsightly 80 and
moped his way to the scorer's tent, where he was told of the
reversal of fortune. "Crazy game," said Stankowski.
"Crazy is not the word for a 62-year-old man who thinks he can
make the cut at Augusta," says the ageless Player, who did just
that with a 149. "The word is merely optimistic." Competing in
his 41st Masters, Player became the oldest player in the
tournament's history to earn a weekend tee time, bettering Sam
Snead's 24-year-old record by seven months. Player called
Friday's flashback-inducing 72 "one of the great highlights of
my life" but added that it wasn't even the tournament's best
round by a sexagenarian, giving the nod to Gay Brewer's 72 last
Thursday. "That was the round of the week, man," says Player,
"and I don't care what anybody does the rest of the way."
It has been 31 years since Brewer, 66, won his Masters, but you
wouldn't know it by his retro wardrobe or rhythmic swing. His 72
produced a pair of Masters records: best round by a player over
65 and oldest player to shoot par or lower. Brewer, a likable
man with an ever-present Pall Mall and a complexion sprinkled
with gin blossoms, last made the cut in 1983, and on Thursday he
credited the spring in his step to some groovy New Age powders
he has been taking to alleviate the pain in his arthritic knees.
Alas, on Friday, "My legs were wobbly by the 3rd hole," Brewer
said after struggling to an 86. "It's a shame I couldn't really
swing at the ball, because the chance to make the cut doesn't
come around often. That's what some of us come here dreaming
The weekend is more than just the reverie of the very old, like
the graying past champions playing hooky thanks to lifetime
exemptions, and the very young, like the two fuzzy-cheeked
college undergrads who made the cut, Joel Kribel and Matt
Kuchar. The Masters has by far the smallest field (88 this year)
of the major championships, and only the low 44 and ties (and
any player within 10 strokes of the lead) survive past Friday.
With so few players, "anyone who makes the cut is in contention,
assuming you go low on the weekend," says Tom Lehman, who didn't
get there thanks to an 80-76. The most famous example of this is
Curtis Strange, who in 1985 shot 80 in the first round, made the
cut with a 65 and then blazed his way to a two-stroke lead on
Sunday before giving the tournament away on the back nine.
"What's unique and so much fun about Augusta is that it dishes
out so many different fates to so many different people, and
quickly," says Strange. This year Darren Clarke and Davis Love
III labored to make the cut with two-round totals of five over,
but with matching 67s last Saturday they shot themselves back
into contention. "I don't know if I can win," Love said on
Saturday, "but at least you're asking the question. Nobody was
asking me that last night." There are fringe benefits to making
the cut--the esteem of colleagues, a shot at the double Ryder
Cup points that go to the top 10 finishers and an inflated
paycheck--and Clarke cashed in on the most coveted of them, the
automatic invitation to the '99 Masters given to the top 24
finishers this year, by tying for eighth.
The Masters hasn't always had a cut. During the first 23
editions, all of Bobby Jones's guests played four rounds. "A lot
of guys were unhappy when they announced they were putting in
the cut [for the 1957 tournament]," says Doug Ford, the '57
champ. "[Ben] Hogan especially. He said you shouldn't invite a
player here and then send him home on the weekend." Perhaps
Hogan's whining was a premonition--at age 44 he shot 76-75 to
miss the inaugural cut by a shot, although he would make nine of
the next 10 before retiring from Augusta in 1967.
This year, last Friday was a good day for discussing 401(k)s, as
a startling number of the game's youth-challenged stars were
sent packing. Greg Norman hardly put up a fight during rounds of
76-78, his worst showing in 18 Masters and second straight
missed cut since his self-immolation in '96. Between the ropes
he looked distracted, even bored, and outside them he was a font
of platitudes. "We can all play with ifs, ands or buts, but it
just didn't happen for me," he said after Friday's round, during
which he had only one birdie. "It wasn't meant to be, so be it."
Norman did allow that "my first four or five days were the best
I've ever had here. It was the easiest and quietest week I've
had in a long time." That's because no one cared about Norman's
annual psychodrama amid the pines. He left Augusta as a
43-year-old with a bad shoulder and a history of close calls.
A quartet of marquee major championship winners seemed to think
it was better to go out with a splash rather than just fade
away. The 15th hole was the waterloo of Raymond Floyd, Nick
Price and Tom Watson. They all drowned balls there during the
second round while taking double bogeys and missed the cut by a
lone stroke. Lehman never recovered from his triple-bogey 8 at
number 15 on Thursday, which featured two rinsed wedge shots.
(Not to be outdone was Lehman's singles opponent in last year's
Ryder Cup, Ignacio Garrido of Spain, who took an 11 on 15 during
the first round on his way to an 85. Garrido, too, missed the
Nick Faldo did his best Scott Hoch impression, blowing a
two-foot par putt on the 36th hole to miss the cut by a shot.
Moments later he stomped up the hill between the final green and
the clubhouse, leaving size-12 divots as he went, acknowledging
the questions of dogged reporters with only a sarcastic roll of
the eyes. Faldo was nominally more responsive than Vijay Singh,
who shot 76-80 to end his streak of consecutive cuts made at 53,
the fifth-longest such streak in Tour history. "Go away, go
away, go away," the surly Singh told reporters after signing his
Friday's crucible also produced heroes. Bubble boy Lee Westwood
birdied the 18th hole from the fairway bunker to sneak in at
150, though Kribel's par on 18 for the same score was probably
more heroic. A junior at Stanford, Kribel first experienced the
razor's edge of a major championship's cut at last year's U.S.
Open, when he finished his second round bogey, bogey, triple
bogey to miss by one. "This will haunt me for a while," he said
at the time, a statement that looked prophetic on Friday when he
bogeyed 14, 15, 16 and 17 to snuggle up to the cut line. Knowing
he needed a par on 18, he hit two solid shots and two-putted
easily. That small victory was lost in the commotion of the
weekend, but to Kribel it was a form of redemption. "It meant a
lot to get it done, to execute the shots when I absolutely had
to," he said, beaming.
For chutzpah nobody could match Craig Stadler. After opening
with a 79, the '82 Masters champ was asked what number he had in
mind for Friday. Without missing a beat, Stadler said, "9:30,"
the time of his flight home that night. After a double bogey at
the 1st hole on Friday, Stadler looked as if he was ready to
hail a cab from the 2nd tee box, but then he rattled off eight
birdies over the next 15 holes--an insane number, considering
the conditions--to shoot 68, and made the cut by three strokes.
"Easy golf course," he said when it was over.
As lovable as the demonstrative Stadler is, he couldn't compete
for the crowd's affection with the cuddly Kuchar, the U.S.
Amateur champ from Georgia Tech. Kuchar stole the gallery's
heart with a goofy grin born of unabashed joy, weeping
grandparents who shadowed him for four days, and some clutch
golf. After birdieing 16 and 18 on Friday to finish four over,
he said, "Making the cut was the absolute goal." After a strong
68 on Saturday to pull even for the tournament, he was asked if
he could win. "You guys are giving me all these goals," he said
with the kind of gee-whiz delivery that kept reporters in
Kuchar, 19, raved about everything from the driving range balls
to the complimentary grub--"I'm impressed by his game and by how
much he eats," Love said--and couldn't get over life "on the
other side of the TV," as he put it. Sometimes, though, reality
bites. "I played the whole front nine today having to go to the
bathroom," Kuchar said on Saturday. "There's nowhere to go out
there." Heading to the 10th tee he asked an official if he could
relieve himself in one of the nearby cabins. "They didn't like
that idea very much," Kuchar said, so after striping his drive
on 10, Kuchar sprinted to the second floor of the crowded
clubhouse and used a urinal next to a couple of startled fans.
"I would have gone behind one of the dogwoods, but there were
too many people around," he said.
Life puts up only the mildest of obstacles for a teenager living
out his dream, but it's a different story for a 38-year-old
warrior struggling to recapture past glory. Since the middle of
1996, Corey Pavin has fallen into the abyss. Last year he missed
the cut in half his 22 Tour starts and finished 169th on the
money list. This season the '95 U.S. Open champ has missed the
cut in four of his six events and has earned a little more than
After an encouraging 73 on Thursday, Pavin fought Augusta
National for every stroke on Friday, making only one birdie but
holding on for a 77 to finish at plus-6. "It's a start," Pavin
said, before quickly adding that it's winning that he cares
about, not moral victories.
His 11-year-old son, Ryan, seemed to have a little more
perspective. As Pavin left the 18th hole on Friday, Ryan grabbed
his hand and wanted to know only one thing. "Daddy, did you make
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN SHHHARK Normally center stage, Norman made a quiet entrance and a quick exit while missing his second consecutive Masters cut. [Greg Norman walking on golf course]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK DOWNTIME Lehman was out in the cold after making a snowman at 15. [Tom Lehman]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK TRUE GRIT Advancing to the weekend was a blast for the 62-year-old Player, the oldest golfer in Masters history to make the cut. [Gary Player golfing out off bunker]
"Go away, go away, go away," Singh told reporters after his
streak came to an end.
"It meant a lot to get it done," said Kribel, "to execute shots
when I had to."