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Column: Despite a double bogey on the last hole, Matthew Fitzpatrick makes himself comfortable at Masters

The most claustrophobic spot at Augusta National has to be the holding area where those who violated the club’s cellphone ban are detained.

A close second is the 18th tee box. Especially when you’re 22 years old, you sit atop the leaderboard at the Masters, the wind is strong enough to send your ball cap to South Carolina and spectators to your right are leaning in to get a better look.

That’s where Matthew Fitzpatrick found himself Thursday afternoon.

“Just didn’t feel comfortable,” he said.

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The patrons that line both sides on 18 form a funnel that can look more like a thimble. On top of that, Fitzpatrick sought a low ball flight into the wind.

“My low one is lower than everyone else’s, so I can actually kill someone at head high,” he said. “I didn’t feel comfortable with people sort of poking their head round. Should have backed off it and gotten everyone to move. I’ll do that the rest of the week.”

Fitzpatrick’s drive hit a tree and bounced into the rough, leaving him 267 yards — uphill. Less than ideal. His double bogey left him with a one-under 71, tied for the day’s fourth-best score.

The winds brought misery to about everyone in the field, save for contrarian Phil Mickelson, who believes brutal conditions disproportionately penalize the weak, and Charley Hoffman. He shot a seven-under 65 and deserves a replica Claret Jug for making nine birdies under British Open conditions.

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In all, double bogeys and worse outnumbered eagles, 44-3.

Adam Scott called the conditions “borderline” unplayable after what transpired on the 14th green. He marked his ball three feet from the hole. Then he replaced it, and as he waited to putt, the ball rolled away, finally stopping at 12 feet.

Playing partner Kevin Kisner said he thought tournament officials might suspend play.

Although it was brutal, one fan remarked that it was not as bad as the second round last year, when afternoon wind gusts gave spectators near the bunkers by the ninth green a sand shower.

And in 2007, winds combined with temperatures in the mid-40s ballooned the scores and left only hearty spectators on the course. Two of them were Jim and Tela Bayless, of Nashville.

Said Jim: “It was like 28 degrees. The Wall-Mart ran out of long-sleeve shirts. So we bought out every one we could find at the Goodwill.”

Added Tela, wearing a hood on top of her Masters cap Thursday: “All you could see was people’s eyes.”

The scenery was better Thursday for Fitzpatrick, an Englishman who studied and played at Northwestern in the fall of 2013 and uses a white golf bag with purple lettering. Rather than following Luke Donald’s path, he left Evanston after three months, telling close friend Nate Taphorn: “It’s freezing here. I’m going pro.”

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The 6-foot-7 Taphorn, who fired the baseball pass to Dererk Pardon to trigger the greatest play in NU basketball history, walked the 18 holes with Fitzpatrick on Thursday. Asked if he gives Fitzgerald grief for bolting early, he replied: “No, because I get to benefit from it!”

Girlfriend and former NU lacrosse player Lydia Cassada greeted Fitzpatrick after his round. So did four former NU football players, all dressed in black, who drove 14 hours to get here. They formed Fitzpatrick’s entourage, debating which one should be nicknamed “Turtle.”

“Awesome to have familiar faces here,” Fitzpatrick said.

They’re all under the same roof at a rental house in Evans, Ga., about 25 minutes away. The posse joked about getting “locked in” the basement, two floors below Fitzpatrick’s bedroom.

Fitzpatrick actually back-doored a seventh-place finish at last year’s Masters with a Sunday 67 and was thrilled to draw major winners Jordan Spieth and Martin Kaymer for his first two rounds this year.

“Matt likes to play with the better players and in front of the bigger crowds,” Ted Brady said. “It’s more exciting for him. It spurs him on.”

And makes him comfortable. For the most part.

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sports@latimes.com


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