Even the most ardent golf followers might struggle picking out in two current leaders of The Masters on Friday night, as they are not amongst the expected names. With both arriving at Augusta with no serious hint of form that could even facilitate two rounds of error free golf – for the most part—that would put them in the leading pairing. But here we are with American Patrick Reed leading on -7 and Australian Marc Leishman trailing by one stroke. With a few shots of daylight before some of the know guns appear, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson. Making for an interesting leader board on Saturday when a number of things will change, including the weather as rain is forecast.
The surge for both reed and Leishman was also threatening Tiger Woods survival as he needed to be in the top 50. Or within 10 strokes of the leader when the final group signed their cards on Friday night. As of midday 69 golfers were in line to qualify for the event’s final two rounds — five more than the 64 who made the cut in 1966 to set the course record. But ominously the top ten regulars like Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Rickie Fowler all remained within striking distance. However, it was Reed who shrank the field with his round reducing Saturday’s starters to 50 competitors. Which at one point looked like bad news for Woods after the 12th where he was +5. But then birdies on the 13th and 15th put him back on the safe side of the cut line.
In four appearances, Reed has twice missed the cut and tied for 22nd and 49th. But the American Ryder Cup players remains unfaczed. “The more you play someplace, especially Augusta National, the more you pick up the little subtleties,” Reed said Friday, “I’m in a better frame of mind with my golf game and mentally.” Although rain is forecast on Saturday afternoon the third round might throw up uncomfortable conditions. “I am from Texas,” he added, “I would say I like it when it gets challenging.”
Famously in 2014 after his third PGA Tour title – also becoming the youngest winner of a World Golf Championships event – he shared some views that created a furore at the time among some of the golfing cognoscenti. “I’ve worked so hard, I’ve won a lot in my junior career, did great things in (my) amateur career, was 6-0 in match play in NCAAs, won NCAAs two years in a row, got third individually one year, and now I have three wins out here on the PGA Tour.
“I just don’t see a lot of guys that have done that, besides Tiger Woods, of course, and, you know, the other legends of the game. It’s just one of those things, I believe in myself and – especially with how hard I’ve worked – I’m one of the top five players in the world,”
He continued, “To come out in a field like this and to hold on wire to wire like that, I feel like I’ve proven myself.”
This week if he wins at Augusta he might just have proved his point.
Aa Jordan Spieth discombobulated on Friday he then recovered to hold a share of fourth the along with McIlroy and paired with fellow American on Saturday, Justin Thomas. After starting with a double bogey, he looked rather different to the fine-tuned machine that graced the course on Thursday. But refusing to be rattled by being three-over par after two holes then added a bogey on the par-5 second hole but went to finish 4-under overall. “I’ve taken a lot of punches on this golf course,” Spieth said. “So, to come back from 3-over through two holes and only shoot 2-over with a limited number of looks, it’s not so bad. I’m still in this golf tournament.” Clearly Friday’s windy conditions and quick greens challenged the field of 87 golfer.
“I just had two really bad tee shots to start the day on the first two holes,” Spieth continued. “Then the course was very difficult today.” By the third hole Spieth was talking to himself again to ensure he steadied his round with four straight pars. The Texan showing remarkable patience at age 24. “Par out here is a really good score,” Spieth said. “So, what’s the first couple of holes on a Friday start mean? It doesn’t really mean much to me. It means let’s figure out what was wrong and fix it. But it’s not going to affect the outcome of this tournament off those two holes. I’m still in great position.”
Rory McIlroy remains in the hunt after a very mixed day. But this year at Augusta he has brought a steely edge that has been absent on recent visits. On a day when par seemed a good score, McIlroy carded 1-under 71. “I’ve always been comfortable around the lead,” McIlroy said in what seemed like a bit of a message to the rest of the field. “It’s a place that I’m thankfully quite familiar with and know how to deal with.”
This year McIlroy has been very serious about his preparations traveling up from Florida to play 54 holes with members last week and 36 a few weeks before that. Also coming off that win in Bay Hill at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“Sometimes pars might be a little bit boring and you might feel as if you want to get a little bit more out of your round,” McIlroy said. “But as you look up the leader board and you’re still there around the lead, that’s taken awhile for me to adjust to.”
Still at Augusta National birdies are available on the back nine so took them at 13 and 14 before making a string of pars to finish his round. “I said to myself on the 13th tee, “Let’s make four in the next six,” sort of do what Jordan did yesterday,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t quite, birdied the 13th and 14th, gave myself a few more chances coming in and didn’t quite convert.”
When Marc Leishman was asked about how he managed to look so relaxed in that high-profile grouping, which also included Tommy Fleetwood. “Obviously, I’ve been through a lot off the course,” Leishman said. “I think that helps me on the course.” Leishman topped the leader board and the memory of being paired in the final round with Adam Scott some years ago, Leishman kerned the importance of seizing opportunities, and taking chances when the reward is worth it. On Friday at the 15th hole he did that and made eagle.