Round two of the 2018 Masters Tournament saw perilous conditions lead to a change atop the leader board, with brash young American Patrick Reed notching a 66 to finish at 9-under par and in first place alone.
Fridays at the Masters are always fraught with turmoil. The best players in the world are either jockeying for position on the upper rungs or scratching to make the cut. With windy conditions dominating play, deciphering which golfers would end up on top was as much guesswork as was club selection.
Day-one leader Jordan Spieth found out immediately just how treacherous the howling winds at Augusta National Golf Club can be. His wayward drive on the very first hole on Saturday led to a double bogey, which he followed with bogeys on holes 2 and 7. His quiet 2-under 34 on the back nine kept him within sight of the tournament’s new leaders, though. Spieth now trails Reed by five shots, with a 4-under total through two rounds.
When the wind blows at Augusta National as it did on Friday, it tends to swirl into eddies that can be the ruin of even a well-struck golf shot. Poor tee shots can get lost in the shrubbery, and anything less than a precise approach will often skip off the mounds protecting the greens in unpredictable directions. When players do find the putting surface, remaining on the correct level can seem mere happenstance.
On days like Friday, Augusta National becomes a test of will as much as an examination of golf.
Reed’s fiery, swashbuckling style is well-suited for major championships in general, and a blustery Augusta National specifically. He goes for broke, and he pulls off the difficult shots more often than he misses. The flip side of that fieriness is that Reed has a notoriously combustible temper to match. So far, he has kept his emotions in check, repairing bogeys with subsequent birdies, often in bunches.
His opening 31 was just one shot off the front-nine record, originally set by Johnny Miller in 1975 and last achieved by Gary Woodland in 2014. Reed cooled a bit to start the back nine, but he followed a bogey on 10 with birdies on holes 13, 14 and 15 – just as he had done on Thursday.
Australian Marc Leishman continues to acquit himself nicely at Augusta National. Leishman has put together two rounds under par (70-67) under the microscope and in the commotion that comes with being grouped with Tiger Woods for two days at the Masters. Heading into Saturday, Leishman owns second position alone at 7-under par.
Now, Leishman gets to play in the final pairing on Saturday at Augusta National, in what threaten to be the toughest conditions of this year’s tournament. And, he’ll likely have to match a scalding-hot American – in Reed – more or less shot for shot. Woods will be off early, having barely made the cut with a 4-over total. His crowds will be looking for more action by the time the final pairing makes the turn. Saturday’s round will likely be as raucous for Leishman as those he has contended with thus far in the tournament.
The Saturday weather forecasts are calling for rain – with chances increasing in the afternoon – as a cool front passes through the region. Winds should also be gusting at up to 20 miles per hour again on Saturday, followed by sunny, cool and relatively calm conditions on Sunday.
Trailing the two leaders with a 5-under total and in third position alone is Sweden’s Henrick Stenson, who followed a 69 on Thursday with a rollercoaster 70 on Friday. Stenson held at least a share of the lead for three rounds at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, before succumbing to a Rory McIlroy birdie storm on the final day of competition. Stenson also finished T-6 in Houston last week, so don’t sleep on the Swede.
McIlroy, who is tied for 4th place with Spieth at 4-under par, is lurking yet again this week. He has returned to the form that saw him achieve three legs in the career grand slam, reading greens like a clairvoyant and executing touch shots like a virtuoso. McIlroy need only get his putter fired up – as he did when he birdied five of the final six holes at the Arnold Palmer – to cause some real commotion on the weekend.
With world-number-one Dustin Johnson and young American phenom Justin Thomas tied for 6th place at 3-under par, and with a host of PGA Tour and major champions knotted up at 2-under par (including two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson), the players at the top will need every tool in the bag to maintain position.
Moving day looks to live up to its name at Augusta National this year, and a brilliant Sunday finish glimmers on the horizon. What promised to be an enthralling tournament has yet to disappoint. Get ready for an unforgettable weekend at the Masters.