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THE MASTERS : Ballesteros Leads by One After 36 Holes

Times Staff Writer

Are U.S. golfers losing their touch?

Last September, they lost their first Ryder Cup championship since 1957, and here at the Augusta National Golf Club Friday, they were outnumbered, 5-3, by foreigners on the Masters’ leader board.

What ever happened to Jack Nicklaus? Tom Watson? Lee Trevino? Or Ken Green, for that matter?

The leaders after 36 holes included a Spaniard, Severiano Ballesteros; a Japanese, Tommy Nakajima; a West German, Bernhard Langer; an Australian, Greg Norman, and a Chinese, Tze-Chung Chen.

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Ballesteros shot a 68, four under par, for a one-stroke lead at 139 on a day that was a carbon copy of Thursday. And the course conditions, virtually all the players said, were about the same, too, which meant that the wind swirled as only it can at Augusta National and that the greens were as swift as ever.

Second at 140 was Bill Kratzert of Fort Wayne, Ind., who shot a 72 after sharing the lead Thursday with Green at 68. Another stroke back was Nakajima, who shot a 71. Tied at 142 were Langer, 68; Norman, 72; Chen, 73; Danny Edwards, 71, and Ben Crenshaw, 71.

Forty-eight players, among them USC’s Sam Randolph, the U.S. Amateur champion, made the cut by shooting 149 or better. Randolph shot a 73 and squeezed in at 148. Mark McCumber shot the best score of the day, a five-under-par 67.

Some familiar names did not make the cut--Gary Player and Craig Stadler at 150; Andy Bean at 151; Hal Sutton, Hale Irwin and Raymond Floyd at 152, and Arnold Palmer at 156. Stadler had it made until he shot a triple-bogey 7 on the last hole.

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And some familiar ones made it, among them Tom Watson and Tom Kite at 144; Jack Nicklaus at 145; Calvin Peete, Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green at 146; Curtis Strange at 147; John Mahaffey at 148, and Lanny Wadkins and Lee Trevino at 149. On this course, under these conditions, they remained in the fight.

Strokes can be made up on Augusta National in bunches. Look at what happened Friday. Mahaffey shot 69, 10 strokes better than his Thursday score.

Mac O’Grady improved 12 strokes with a 70 but missed the cut at 152. South African Nick Price also was 10 shots better. And on the back nine, Tom Watson blew four shots in two holes. He shot the side in 39. Ken Green fell apart and finished with a 78 and a 146.

Ballesteros, playing consistently and confidently, had three birdies on the front nine, but it was not until he made an eagle 3 on the 15th hole that he took the lead. He hit a 4-wood shot 230 yards into the wind and onto the green at the 500-yard hole, then sank a 25-foot putt.

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Asked if he had ever hit a better shot on that hole, he said: “Yes. But it was all right. It was a good shot.”

On the 555-yard second hole, he hit a 6-iron shot about 190 yards, just missing the green. “I hit a little hook,” he said. He got his birdie there with a four-foot putt.

On the 400-yard first hole, where Langer had used a 1-iron for his second shot Thursday, Ballesteros hit a 9-iron. He also reached the green in two shots on the 535-yard eighth hole, which is uphill, but he three-putted it for a par after leaving the first one eight feet short.

Ballesteros hit a terrible shot on No. 13, however, topping a 3-wood second shot into Rae’s Creek. “I don’t know what happened,” he said. “The lie was not so bad. The ball just went rolling along the ground into the creek.”

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He chose the wrong club on the tee at No. 16 and knocked a 5-iron shot over the green into a bunker. “I should have hit a 6-iron,” he said. “The wind fooled me.” He putted from the bunker, and the ball rolled 25 feet past the hole. Two putts later he had made a bogey 4.

“My brother (Vicente, his caddy) told me to hit the 6-iron,” he said. Asked if Vicente had said, ‘I told you so,’ Ballesteros laughed and said, “Yes, he say that.”

Ballesteros got the stroke back with a birdie on No. 18, where he sank an 18-foot putt.

Asked what he thought of his position on the scoreboard, he looked over at the board and said: “It looks pretty good.” Then he said: “It looks better than it did yesterday, but there is still a long way to go.”

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Kratzert, who was in a hurry to get to the practice tee before dark, said his round was nothing great but not bad, either. “I couldn’t have gotten any more out it.”

His round, in fact, had few highlights. He sank a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 2 and did not make another birdie until he two-putted No. 13 after reaching the green with a 3-iron shot.

At No. 15, another par-5 hole, he hit his second shot short of the water hazard, pitched within 18 inches of the hole with a sand wedge and got his third birdie.

He was a little nervous teeing off with the lead, he said. The problem was, “killing seven hours before my tee-off time, after getting up at 7 a.m.”

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Langer, the defending champion, played the par-3 holes at three under par on the way to his 68. That’s not easy at Augusta National, where ground is usually made up on the par-5 holes. Langer figured it was pretty impressive himself.

He birdied No. 4 with an 18-foot putt and No. 16 from 30 feet. On the infamous No. 12, he hit his tee shot three feet short of the green and chipped the next one into the hole with a sand wedge.

Watson, only one stroke from the lead at the time, bogeyed No. 11 after he had hit his second shot into a water hazard, then lost three strokes at No. 12, where he drove into another water hazard, took a penalty drop and hit his next shot into a bunker.

For Crenshaw, the 1984 Masters champion, it was an almost day. “I was between clubs all day,” he said. “It was annoying.”

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After a fast start with birdies on the first two holes--he hit an 8-iron shot within 12 inches of the cup at No. 1--he made bogeys at Nos. 5 and 7, three-putting both holes.

He got those strokes back at No. 13, where he sank a 25-foot downhill putt for an eagle 3 after hitting the green with a 3-iron shot.

He didn’t get down on himself, he said. “That’s golf. We have our ups and downs. But I’m excited. I don’t need any pep talks this week.”

Nakajima once shot No. 13 in 13 strokes. Friday, he chopped 10 strokes off that figure when he reached the green with a 5-wood shot and sank a 20-foot putt for an eagle.

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“I feel I have more than redeemed myself by my performance on that hole,” he said through an interpreter.

Asked to comment on his game, he replied: “My driver was not as ideal as I had hoped.” At least, that was the interpretation.


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