At The Masters
Dean Wilson blasted out of the bunker on the second hole during yesterday's third round of the Masters. Wilson finished with a 4-over 72 and trailed leader Stuart Appleby by five shots.
Wilson fades but doesn’t fade away
AUGUSTA, Ga. » If Dean Wilson fails to finish in the top 16 today to automatically qualify for next year's Masters, an unkind putter and untimely drive at the 18th yesterday will prove to be his undoing.
Standing on the 18th tee, Wilson was sitting in a tie for 11th and in excellent position to be a force entering today's final round. But instead of shaping his drive on a nice left-to-right plane as he did most of the day, he unexpectedly yanked it way left.
It plowed into a pine tree that produced a wayward bounce from the golf ball as it ricocheted deep into the woods guarding the left side of the fairway and into a hazard, forcing him to take a drop that resulted in a one-shot penalty.
At the behest of his caddie, Wilson used a 4-iron to escape the pines, but the ball landed about 50 yards short of the green. His fourth shot came up hole high about 12 feet from the pin, but unlike the first two days, when he and his putter were best friends, Wilson left the bogey try short and under the hole for his second double of the tournament, dropping him into a tie for 16th at 7-over 223.
In the grand scheme of this windy and chilly Masters, a 4-over 76 yesterday wasn't anything to hang your head over, but if you want to compete for the title and prove you belong with the world's best, you can't afford loose shots in pressure-packed situations.
"I played OK, except for that last drive," Wilson said. "It was brutal out there. I was just trying to survive again. I haven't lived in Hawaii since I was 18. I've been out here playing for a long time. I can't really prepare for this, though, it's just tough. The conditions are tough. The greens are very hilly and they have them really fast."
As most of the players did yesterday, Wilson struggled with these greens, starting with the opening hole and continuing through to the last. He lipped out a par putt at the first from 8 feet and made a mess of No. 3 with a second shot short of the green, a chip that barely stayed on and a shaky two-putt for bogey.
A nice birdie at No. 2 kept him from slipping away as playing partner Mike Weir eventually did, but it was the only time he landed in the red on the front side as he opened with a steady, if unspectacular 1-over 37. What was troubling with the pars he managed on Nos. 4-9 were the birdie opportunities he failed to negotiate.
At the par-3 sixth, he turned a 10-foot try for birdie into an 8-foot par save, drawing a small groan from the crowd on his birdie attempt that missed the hole wide left. He had another excellent birdie chance at the par-4 seventh, but the putt from 15 feet was never on line, resulting in another par.
Dealing with a stiff breeze at the par-5 eighth, Wilson hit his drive only 250 yards to the middle of the fairway. His second shot left him another 100 yards shy of the pin, but a solid approach that landed 17 feet under the hole didn't translate to a birdie. His putt was on line, but came up a couple of rolls short.
Downwind at the ninth, Wilson smacked a big drive to within 80 yards of the hole, followed by another solid approach that carried just off into the fringe, leaving him a birdie try of 20 feet. Unfortunately for the 37-year-old, this putt came up short under the hole, keeping Wilson at 4 over for the tournament entering a particularly tough stretch of fairways and greens.
"I don't know, what do you do, everybody is going to be out there struggling," Wilson said. "It looks like the average score is 77. Every time you grow up watching it, it's always beautiful. Guys are making birdies. They've just set the course up to where guys aren't going to make birdies. I don't know if that's what they want."
What Wilson didn't want was to start the back nine as poorly as he did on Friday. But as fate would have it, he bogeyed the par-4 10th, missing an array of shots, including a 10-footer for par that didn't draw any response from the crowd because he missed it so badly. Wilson did play the 11th better than he did the day before, when he landed in the water for an eventual double bogey.
He hit a nice drive down the left side, but his second shot sailed over the green, leading to a dangerous downhill try toward the water. The execution on this chip wasn't crisp, resulting in a two-putt bogey from 25 feet.
But as he did on Friday, Wilson didn't let his nerves get the best of him. He hit an excellent shot into 12 for a two-putt par from 18 feet and followed that up with a good birdie from 15 feet on the final hole of Amen Corner to drop him to 2 over for his round and 5 over for the tournament.
Wilson almost birdied a par 5 for the sixth time since teeing it up on Thursday at the famed 15th, but let a 6-footer just catch the edge of the cup before sliding by for a routine par. The par-4 17th tried to be equally accommodating, as Wilson played it as well as anybody yesterday, leaving himself a makable birdie putt from 12 feet that was never on line as it slid by for an eventual par.
Had he made a couple of those coming in, then the 18th wouldn't have proved as damaging as it did. For the day, Wilson hit only 11 of 18 greens and seven of 14 fairways and needed 31 putts, the most for the week. He is still tied for 16th and has a chance to come back again next year, if he can learn to handle the conditions presented to him.
"I mean if they want to have U.S. Open conditions where one guy finishes under par," Wilson said. "I just think if that's what they're looking for, then it's disappointing because Augusta is somewhere that there's a lot of excitement, there are a lot of birdies and eagles.
"With things happening out here, it's hard to even try to plan what to do and where to hit the shots because the elements are just so demanding. You're just trying to hit them into the center of greens, the fat parts of the green and two-putt from 30 and 40 feet. I don't know -- it's really tough."
Sports Editor Paul Arnett
has been covering sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1990. Reach him at email@example.com