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Safe landing for former ski-jumper Luiten

Joost Luiten of the Netherlands hits from a sandtrap on the 10th hole during a practice round ahead of the 2014 Masters golf tournament at t
Joost Luiten of the Netherlands hits from a sandtrap on the 10th hole during a practice round ahead of the 2014 Masters golf tournament at t

By Tony Jimenez

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - The rolling, sloping fairways of Augusta National are a sharp reminder of Joost Luiten's childhood days on the ski-jump hills, the Dutchman said after making a safe golfing landing on his Masters debut.

The 28-year-old, who brought an end to his career on the snow after fracturing his elbow and nose at the age of 10, was a picture of contentment after a second-round 73 gave him a four-over aggregate of 148.

"I think you could make a pretty good jump on some of these hills here but luckily there was no snow today," a laughing Luiten told Reuters in an interview as he sheltered from the heat of the sun behind one of a plethora of pine trees.

"I'm happy to play golf these days. It's a lot safer."

It was a case of mission accomplished for the European Ryder Cup hopeful after he mixed three birdies with four bogeys to qualify for the final two rounds of the opening major championship of the year.

"The main goal was to make the weekend and I'm very happy I've done that," said Luiten. "Now hopefully I can start to look upwards, play well and move up the leaderboard.

"It will be a great experience to play four rounds instead of only two and it will be important for my development as a player."

Luiten did not make the cut without suffering a fright or two along the way.

"I played pretty good on the front nine. I was one-under after nine holes but I could have been ever better," he explained.

"I lost a shot at the par-three 12th. That played really tough today and I went over the green and couldn't make my up and down.

TOUGH SPOT

"I lost another shot on 14 when I made a three-putt from the back of green where the pin was in a very tough spot but I came back with a good birdie on 15," said Luiten.

"That was a really important one because it got me back to three over. It was unfortunate I made it a bit too interesting with a bogey on 17 and then I made a good two-putt from the back of the green on 18 to make the weekend."

Luiten has won three times on the European Tour and has always hankered for a trip to Augusta.

"It's great here," he said. "You have expectations when you come to this tournament but when you walk inside the ropes you have to play the shots yourself that you've seen on television for so many years.

"It's a nice feeling, a very special feeling. The main thing that surprises you is you can't really get the flavor of this place until you get here and see how slopey the fairways and greens are.

"You've heard all the stories but it's different when you walk the course and you see for yourself how very tough it is."

Luiten, who won twice on the European Tour last season, said it was a scary experience on the heavily contoured greens.

"You are just terrified of hitting the ball on some putts," he added. "You just have to touch it, the ball sets off and you can be short of the hole or it can run six or seven feet by.

"This is how this golf course plays and you have to accept that and make the putt coming back if you run by. If you are the wrong side of the hole though you are going to struggle.

"It affects your psyche too especially with the wind we had today. You are always second guessing, the wind swirls around the trees and with the putts you wonder if it really is as quick as it looks," said Luiten.

"Most of the time it's even quicker than it looks so it's very confusing sometimes."

Luiten is just outside the qualifying positions for Europe's Ryder Cup side that will face the United States in Scotland in September and another debut, in the biennial team event, is on his list of targets.

"It's always in the back of my mind," said the curly-haired Dutchman. "It's a very big goal of mine to try and qualify for the team and having a good weekend here will help me get some points."

(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)

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