Recap of the day
Morning wave: The top five on the leaderboard had all been afternoon starters on Thursday so there was a chance for them to separate themselves from the field this morning, especially with rain softening the course in the very early play. However, Augusta National was not going to roll over easily. Bryson DeChambeau got it to 7-under early and led by two but wobbled badly around the turn and ended with a 75 for 3-under. Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson were also over par for a large part of the day before coming in with 71 and 70 respectively. But the stars of the show were Open champion Francesco Molinari and Jason Day, who both added 67s to their opening 70s to set the clubhouse target of 7-under. Koepka matched it with a walk-off birdie while DJ ended a shot back. Ian Poulter kept up his title bid with a 71 to sit two off the pace.
Afternoon wave: South African Justin Harding, playing in his first Masters, became the next man to get it to 7-under after a hot run of four birdies from the 12th and a tap-in 17. That briefly made it a four-way tie before he dropped a shot at 18 for the second day running. A 29-minute weather delay put a temporary halt to proceedings before Adam Scott, after briefly hitting -8, delivered a 68 to make it a four-way tie at 7-under. Four became five when 2012 runner-up Louis Oosthuizen matched the low round of the week with a 66 until Xander Schauffele lowered it by a shot soon after thanks to a superb seven-under 65. And then there was Tiger Woods. A couple of front-nine bogeys but plenty of highlight-reel moments, including a birdie from the trees at 14, and a 68 to lurk just a shot back. By close of play, a single shot separated the top nine.
Notes: What common trait do the five leaders share? They’re all major champions!
Selected others: -4 Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, -3 Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, -2 Tommy Fleetwood, -1 Bernhard Langer, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Evs Bubba Watson, +1 Hideki Matsuyama, +2 Henrik Stenson.
Cut: 65 players made it through on +3 or better due to the 10-shot rule
Revised betting: 7/1 Koepka, DJ, Molinari, Woods, 10/1 Day, 11/1 Scott, 12/1 Oosthuizen, 14/1 Schauffele, 18/1 Rahm, 33/1 Poulter, Thomas, Fowler.
Saturday weather forecast
The official update from Augusta National for Saturday’s play: “Expect some morning fog, becoming partly sunny with a 30% chance for isolated showers and thunderstorms. Low: 66F High: 85F Winds: SSE 5-10 mph. A strong cold front will approach Augusta on Sunday, bringing increasing chances for strong thunderstorms during the late afternoon and into the evening hours. Winds will increase ahead of the front Sunday afternoon with gusts expected to reach 20-30 mph later in the day.”
Leaders after 36 holes
Francesco Molinari (67, 137) – Any bogey-free rounds at Augusta National are worth their weight in gold and Molinari found one today. He’s dropped just a single shot through 36 holes and missed just five fairways to this point. Hit 12 greens today and got up and down each time, taking just 25 putts overall. The unexcitable Italian is doing everything well.
Jason Day (67, 137) – Images in R1 of him on his back receiving treatment and limping along the final few holes suggested the dreaded WD would appear next to Day but here he is tied for the lead. His latest ailment, actually a recurrence of recent back trouble, was incurred when picking up his daughter on the practice green. Ten birdies and three bogeys so far and hit 14 GIR today after finding nine fairways.
Brooks Koepka (71, 137) – Birdied the first, found tree trouble and doubled the second, birdied three and bogeyed four and six. Settled down after that with gains at 8, 15 and a lead-tying circle at 18. GIR count down from 15 to 12 today and three-putted twice and yet Koepka’s bad days in majors are still under par.
Adam Scott (68, 137) – A round that started slowly but gathered pace as he birdied 12 and 13 before putting his second to four feet at 15 and knocking in the eagle putt. Became the first man this week to reach 8-under before bogeying 17. Ranks 2nd for GIR so far after hitting 15 today.
Louis Oosthuizen (66, 137) – Smooth, very smooth. An opening birdie set the tone, he added a trio of deuces at 4, 6 and 12 and made further gains at 7, 13 and 15. Six swishes at No. 8 but brilliant sand save at 18 (3-for-3 this week) and pelted 13 greens.
Fate of the favorites
Rory McIlroy (71, 144) – Under par today but only just and has nine bogeys so far. Seven back going into the weekend but there are so many quality players a long way ahead of him. He has to force it from here and that’s high risk at Augusta National. Just nine greens in the right number in R2.
Dustin Johnson (70, 138) – Bogeyed the 1st and parred his way through the rest of the front nine before finally getting going with birdie at 10 and expected par breakers at 13 and 15. Hit just nine greens in regulation today and only six fairways so has things to tidy up going into the weekend even though he’s just one back.
Justin Rose (73, 148) – What went wrong? Out of sorts all week and just way too inconsistent. Had three birdies and an eagle over the first 13 holes but swallowed six bogeys, including three in the last four. His first missed cut in 14 Masters starts and it’s now 17 years and counting since a World No. 1 won the green jacket.
Justin Thomas (68, 141) – Five shots better today and now in contention, just three back. Hit less greens (12 compared to Thursday’s 14) but putted much better. Eagled 15 while only dropped shot came at 18.
Tiger Woods (68, 138) – Even a security guard slipping on the wet turf and catching Tiger’s ankle couldn’t wipe the smile from Woods’ face today. He’s back in Masters contention and loving it. 16 GIR in R2 despite finding just half the fairways.
Francesco Molinari (67): “It never feels smooth around here unfortunately but, yeah, it was good. It was pretty solid, not many mistakes. When I missed the greens, I missed them on the good side, leaving myself pretty easy up and downs. All in all a very good day. With the greens being soft and not a lot of wind out there, you could go pretty much straight at every flag.”
Jason Day (67): “Drove it nicely, hit my iron shots closer and actually putted really decently. Birdied all the par fives which was nice. You just can’t really try and force the issue too much. (On his back problem) I feel good. I may actually bend down and give my daughter a kiss a little bit differently. Got some work in last night, got some work in this morning and it loosened up nicely, not like when I was playing Bay Hill when it tightened everything up.”
Brooks Koepka (71): “It was nice to finally see a putt go in there on 18, can build some momentum going into the weekend. Didn’t strike it as good as I did yesterday and definitely didn’t putt it as good. Struggled on the left-to-right putts, just didn’t really feel too comfortable on them today.”
Adam Scott (68): “It was a very good day. Another round in the 60s puts me in the right spot really. I’m right there but so are a lot of other players too so it’s going to be a really interesting weekend. I struck the ball really well today. I’ve seen what I wanted to see out of my game.”
Louis Oosthuizen (66): “Pretty decent ball striking, gave myself a lot of opportunities and made the odd putt for par when I was in trouble and that really helped.”
Tiger Woods (68): “I feel like I can shape the ball both ways and it’s something that we have to do around this golf course.”
Ian Poulter (71): “I’m a little frustrated with a couple of holes coming in, I had a couple of opportunities, missed the putt on the last there from about 10 feet. The three-putt on 14 was disappointing. I’ve played well today, missed a couple of greens, wasn’t quite as clinical as it was yesterday but it wasn’t quite as easy even though the greens softened up. I’m kind of in position and it’s going to be a good weekend.”
Justin Thomas (68): “I played well. I felt like I played just as well yesterday as I did today but I got absolutely nothing out of it. I’m still not making any putts, I’m not really hitting my short irons very well, I’ve driven the ball pretty well. Got a couple of bad breaks with some mud balls, I got one on 13 today so that’s a bit frustrating. At least I shot 4-under today to get myself to a good position.”
Road to victory at Augusta National
2018 Patrick Reed – R1: 4th, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2017 Sergio Garcia – R1: 4th, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2016 Danny Willett – R1: 9th, R2: 8th, R3: 5th
2015 Jordan Spieth – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2014 Bubba Watson – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
Notes: We noted yesterday that the last 13 winners were all inside the top 10 after round one although, a further delve back to 1998 showed that Tiger (twice), Phil and Mark O’Meara were 15th or worse. Over that same study period, there is just a single case of a player being outside the top nine after 36 holes, Charl Schwartzel, who was T12 at the midpoint in 2011. In terms of shots back, Schwartzel and Tiger (2005) were six shots in arrears and that’s the biggest comeback margin since 1998. Rory enters the weekend seven back incidentally.
Fate of the 36-hole leaders at Augusta National – where did they finish?
Notes: A 36-hole leader has gone on to win in four of the last five years so very good news for our five 36-hole leaders. It’s a strong recent trend although not a historic one with only two others winning from the midpoint since 1999.
Focus on – Bogey count
In Thursday’s Round-up, we talked about how limiting mistakes is a huge factor at Augusta National.
The bogey or worse count of the last 11 champions reads: +11, +7, +8, +10, +9, +6, +9, +7, +6, +8, +7. That’s an average of +8 and seven of those 11 winners recorded the lowest count of the week.
So, how are the leaders faring? Who is making the fewest errors?
-7 Francesco Molinari (bogey count +1)
-7 Jason Day (bogey count +3)
-7 Brooks Koepka (bogey count +4)
-7 Adam Scott (bogey count +3)
-7 Louis Oosthuizen (bogey count +4)
-6 Dustin Johnson (bogey count +2)
-6 Justin Harding (bogey count +4)
-6 Xander Schauffele (bogey count +7)
-6 Tiger Woods (bogey count +4)
-5 Ian Poulter (bogey count +3)
-5 Jon Rahm (bogey count +2)
Notes: Everyone bar Schauffele is doing what they need to do while look out for DJ and Rahm if they start to throw in more birdies. But no-one has played better error-free golf so far than……
Focus on – Francesco Molinari
Molinari’s coach Dennis Pugh was asked by Golf365.com earlier this week to pick his 1-2-3 for the Masters. His response wasn’t surprising, but the reasoning wasn’t necessarily what some may have expected: “Just one pick,” said Pugh. “Francesco, because he now has the firepower to match the accuracy.” Firepower isn’t something we always think of with the Italian, instead putting his improved performances due to a turnaround on the greens. But by hitting it an extra 20 yards, the Open champion has found a new way to take on Augusta National. Extra distance has not come at the expense of accuracy (he’s hit 22 of 28 fairways so far) and, having never gone into the weekend of a Masters in the top 20, he’s now tied for the lead and eyeing a second major win in three starts.