They’re halfway home at Augusta National and it’s anyone’s ballgame.
Just the way it should be.
On a day when the weather changed as often as the leaderboard, those who went out early struggled in a morning drizzle that led to slow greens, while players who drew the afternoon tee-time had to battle freshening winds that made both back-nine par 5’s tough to reach in two. No one, thankfully, gained much of an advantage based on when they played.
Through 36 holes, Jason Day (-6) is the leader, with 53-year old Fred Couples and first-round leader Marc Leishman both one back at 5-under par. Nineteen others are at 2-under par or better, including Angel Cabrera (-4), Tiger Woods (-3) and Rory McIlroy (-2).
Woods was tied for the lead at one point, but once again failed to play the back-nine well and made bogey at fifteen and eighteen to offset a front nine 33. In fairness, Tiger’s round of 71 could have been worse. He made three par-saving putts on the back nine – at 12, 14 and 16 – and had to coax home a 4-footer at the 15th to save bogey after his 3rd shot collided with the flag stick and caromed into the water in front of the green. Tiger’s 71 could have easily been 74 had it not been for a solid putting round that was only blemished by a missed 8-footer at 18 that led to a closing bogey-5.
Couples continues to be the most interesting story at Augusta. The 1992 winner is seemingly always on the weekend leaderboard and Friday’s round of 71 puts him in the final group on Saturday afternoon with Day. The other important note for Couples: he drew the late-Thursday/early-Friday tee-time, which means he’ll have nearly 24 hours of rest prior to teeing it up on Saturday. That’s huge for any player, but particularly a 53-year old with a balky back. Don’t be surprised if Couples is still in the hunt with 18 holes to go.
This could turn out to be Day’s coronation as a world-class player. He was in the hunt for a green jacket in 2011 until Charl Schwartzel went nuts on the final four holes. Day was also the runner-up at the Rory McIlroy Invitational, otherwise known as the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional. He’s one of the Tour’s most talented players when his putter behaves, which it did with great obedience on Friday when he made made four birdies on the inward nine.
Angel Cabrera and Schwartzel are both on the leaderboard and history is on their side, if nothing else. Both have the experience to win at Augusta and Cabrera, in particular, has a great track record at the Masters.
The traditional saying of “The Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday” doesn’t do justice to the fact that Saturday is always “moving day” in golf. Take a look at the leaderboard at 2pm today. Then take a look again at 6pm or so. It’s likely to tell a different story.