Sleeping on the lead at the Masters Tournament does funny things to people, and a different player often seems to show up for day two than played on day one. Round-one leader Charley Hoffman shot a 3-over-par 75 on Friday to open a window for the players who were looking up at him after his sizzling 65 in the kite-ripping winds on Thursday.
Hoffman came back to the field, but he did not shoot himself out of the tournament. He remained tied atop the leaderboard at 4-under par on Friday evening, joined by a trio of hungry contenders.
Taking advantage of gradually improving conditions and still-receptive greens, Sergio Garcia pieced together a stellar 3-under-par 69 in the second round to join the mix at the top. Garcia is the only player in the field to post two scores under par. He came into the tournament hot, and it is difficult not to wonder if this is the year he finally gets his first elusive major title.
Joining Garcia and Hoffman in first position are Rickie Fowler and young German Thomas Pieters. Fowler’s 5-under-par 67 was good for low round of the day on Friday, while Thomas shot 68 to get into the mix. The remaining field of 53 players will be looking to pressure the leaders in calmer conditions when play resumes on Saturday.
American journeyman William McGirt trails the leaders by two strokes at the end of round two, and sits in fifth place alone. McGirt, 37, is playing in his first Masters, thanks to a lone PGA Tour win at the 2016 Memorial Tournament. His quiet, steady-Eddie play has been the perfect recipe for contention thus far, but more fireworks may be in order as conditions improve further on the weekend.
Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, showed what experience at Augusta can mean Friday, utilizing local knowledge to target his approaches to slopes on greens that new competitors simply can’t see. Couples’ putts scared the hole often on Friday, and he capitalized on his opportunities often enough to shoot 2-under 70 and finish tied for sixth at 1-under par.
Ever a fan favorite, Couples’ play up to the cut was reminiscent of Tom Watson at the British Open at Turnberry in 2009. At age 57, Couples could become the oldest major champion ever by nearly a decade if he can continue to smooth his way around Augusta for two more days. Watson let emotion get the better of him and lost to Stewart Cink in a playoff at Turnberry, but Boom Boom seems too cool for emotional collapses.
Speaking of emotions and history, Phil Mickelson was at even par and four shots off the lead heading into moving day, with a realistic chance for a fourth green jacket. At 46 years of age, he is not quite a year older than Jack Nicklaus was when he won his sixth Masters in 1986, still the record for most wins and oldest winner.
Because of the 10-shot rule, the cut line for the 2017 Masters was set at 6-over par. The 151-aggregate-score cut line is the highest it has been since 2007, and the second highest since 1989. Current Masters champion Danny Willett turned in a 78 on Friday to miss the cut by one shot. He was joined by 2007 Champion Zach Johnson and Americans Kevin Na and Jim Furyk at 7-over par.
Past-champion Larry Mize, who famously broke Greg Norman’s heart 30 years ago this week with a miraculous playoff chip-in to win the Masters, snuck in on the number to earn a Saturday tee time. Mize’s playing partner, Stewart Hagestad, was one of two amateurs to make the cut. Hagestad, the current U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, is low amateur so far with a 3-over aggregate score. The other surviving amateur is current U.S. Amateur champion Curtis Luck, who made the cut right on the line.
Thirty six holes are left to play in the 2017 Masters. No one is yet completely out of contention, but the clock is ticking for the majority of the remaining field. Much will be decided as players jockey for position on Saturday. Glory does not often offer itself to the eventual Masters winner. Like Mize in 1987, the eventual champion must snatch it.