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Masters off to an unusual start

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The U.S. Open, formerly known as the Masters, has skewed the way we look at scores at Augusta National.

In other years here, Paul Casey’s 79 in the first round would have had him making plans for the weekend. But a second round of 68 had him thinking about making a concerted run at the green jacket.

In other years, if Tiger Woods opened with the dreaded 73-74 combination, he barely would have made the cut. But when he walked off the course Friday, he still found himself in position to win his fifth green jacket.

The slate has been changed for what is shaping up to be a most unusual Masters. The U.S. Open-like scores have compressed the field, offering a myriad of possibilities for the weekend.

At the end of the day, Brett Wetterich (73 on Friday) and Tim Clark (71) shared the second-round lead at 2 under. But they had plenty of company at the top.

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There were five players within two shots of the co-leaders, including Vijay Singh at even par, and 24 players within five shots at 3 over, including Luke Donald and Woods.

Par a good score

A five-shot deficit is a trifle on a firm-and-fast Augusta National course. On a track usually known for its exciting barrage of birdies, the players were uttering the mantra reserved U.S. Opens: Par is a good score.

Indeed, with the way players are struggling to hang on, super low numbers like 65 or 66 aren’t required. A solid round of 69 will launch a player up on the leaderboard. Only three players broke 70 on Friday.

Casey was a case in point Friday. His flirtation with 80 on Thursday left him in a tie for 75th. His 68 provided instant redemption, vaulting him into a tie for 15th at 3 over.

The other sub-70 players also made big moves. Padraig Harrington’s 68, coming off a 77, bumped him into a tie for eighth. Jerry Kelly rebounded from a 75 to post a 69 and move into a tie for fourth, only two shots out of the lead.

Focus is a must

Even Wetterich’s score prompted a double-take. After opening with a 69 to share the first-round lead with Justin Rose, he slipped with a 73. Normally, an over-par second round would knock a player out of the lead.

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But this isn’t a normal year at Augusta National. This is the first time the course has seen firm conditions since it was stretched to 7,445 yards. And it is taking its toll.

Ed Sherman writes for the Chicago Tribune. His column is distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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