AUGUSTA, Ga.— Patrick Reed playing golf in calm conditions, that’s sort of the yin and yang of golf. So much of Friday at the Masters was gusty, with winds shifting and dancing and generally messing with minds. But Reed played in the last group of the day. So when he added some spice — by yelling at his ball or himself, be it appropriate or not — it cut across Augusta National Golf Club. The bluster had died down a bit. Yet Reed can still huff and puff.
The Masters is only halfway over, and the wind might yet have more of a say. But after 36 holes, Reed is coloring it with his personality and his play. The 27-year-old who’s never afraid to say precisely what pops in his head managed the best score of Friday’s second round, a 66 that got him to 9 under par, providing a two-shot lead over Australian Marc Leishman.
Not too long ago, Reed was helping lead the local college team, Augusta State, to back-to-back NCAA championships. Even in those days, his assessment of whether he belonged at the next level — competing in and winning majors — was unwavering.
“Everyone wants to win,” he said Friday evening. “And if you don’t believe you can win them, you probably shouldn’t be playing in them.”
Reed is playing and leading, and Leishman is closely in his rearview. A win this weekend for either would provide a signature moment, a first major championship. But the pack behind them, it’s dotted with accomplishments. Lurking at 4 under are golf’s two heavyweight young stars, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, who have seven majors between them. And look at the other major winners there, too: British Open champ Henrik Stenson, a stroke better at 5 under; Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open) and Justin Thomas (PGA Championship) a couple more back at 3 under.
“It’s always an awesome leader board,” Leishman said.
And Reed’s name fits. For a player who has spent time ranked in the top 10 in the world and has some heady victories — 2014 at Doral, when he brassily declared himself a top-five player, 2016 at the Barclays — Reed’s record in majors is spotty. He has contended just once, last year at the PGA, where he finished two shots back of winner Justin Thomas. His Masters record, in four trips here, was, quite frankly, disappointing — two missed cuts, never a round in the 60s.
Yet in the first two rounds, it’s as if he read the manual on how to work your way around this place — and executed. His opening 69 included birdies on all four par-5s. Friday, he pulled off that trick again while largely remaining patient on the other holes.
“The more you get to play out here,” he said, “the more you get to find more subtleties and nuances that you need to know about.”
But he is also a known commodity, a Ryder Cup hero and character. His singles match against McIlroy at the 2016 Ryder Cup was epic, with behavior anathema to what is expected on these grounds. Reed wagged his finger at McIlroy. McIlroy shushed the crowd. Reed fired them up. After all the chaos, Reed closed out McIlroy at 18, and the route to the American victory was mowed.
“Of course Ryder Cup, it gets you kind of high-adrenaline, craziness going on,” Reed said. “It’s just one of these things, to me it’s still golf.”
So he is comfortable being the focus of the action. Saturday will be a different stage — the final group in a major on the weekend, when he will play with Leishman, whose second-round 67 was marked by a massively hooked second shot to the par-5 15th, where he made eagle. But by Saturday evening, Reed could be ceding the stage to the weather. Rain is predicted, and it could be coupled with wind. Friday showed how finicky Augusta becomes with just one of those elements.
“There’s a fine line between birdies and bogeys,” said Matt Kuchar, who shared the lead for much of the morning but stumbled to a 75. “It’s one of those days where I’m kind of anxious to kick my feet up in the house and watch the guys deal with it the rest of the afternoon.”
Dealing with it was difficult for just about everybody, particularly those who played earlier. Spieth began his day with a two-shot lead, and by the time he finished one hole, it was gone — a lousy tee shot leading to a double bogey at the first. His second straight wayward drive led to the unforgivable — bogey at the normally tame par-5 second. When he got to the downhill par-3 sixth, the flag blew stiff, as if on the deck of a ship fighting a storm at sea, not at the bottom of a hill in a place as tranquil as this. He made another bogey at 7, and shot 40 on the opening nine.
So here he was, having stormed the course Thursday, wavering. Spieth is only 24. But as he pointed out after his opening 66, he has already dealt with everything Augusta National can offer — the opportunity to master it, as he did in 2015, and the danger around each corner, as he found in a final-round collapse the following year. So he had a conversation with his caddie, Michael Geller.
“I’ve taken a lot of punches on this golf course — and in tournaments in general,” Spieth said. “I told Michael, ‘Look, when this course plays tough, I’m good for a double here or some bogeys there. Let’s make these the only ones.’”
From there, he was steady, and reeled in a day that might have slipped away, making birdies at the two par-5s on the back to turn in a 74. “I’m still in this golf tournament,” Spieth said, and he was right.
McIlroy is as well, though his 71 was a bit less eventful than Spieth’s round. The two of them in contention is the kind of theater the Masters seems to provide.
“I’ve always felt comfortable being up around the lead,” McIlroy said. “It’s a place that I’m thankfully quite familiar with and know how to deal with.”
Saturday, Patrick Reed will become familiar with it. Will he be comfortable?
“It’s not a position I feel that’s really any different,” Reed said.
He is comfortable being himself. He is comfortable at center stage. He is comfortable bellowing into the breeze. “I like it when it gets challenging,” he said.
Half the challenges, the first 36 holes, are behind him. Those that await over the weekend are greater, more intense. He answers questions about his ability and potential with the utmost confidence. Now, he must play with it too.
Matt Bonesteel, Dan Steinberg and Jacob Bogage filed these live updates during Friday’s round:
Woods will play the weekend
Tiger Woods, the most-watched figure at the Masters, made the march up the 18th fairway at Augusta National Golf Club to roars and applause, but he’ll want to forget his Friday round at the Masters.
He carded a 3-over 75, putting him at 4 over in the tournament and 13 shots behind the leader, Reed.
Woods was shaky from the very beginning of his round. His drives were unreliable and he overshot greens from the fairway. He straddled the cut line as he waded through the shady back nine in the Georgia twilight, but a birdie on No. 15 and pars at the 17th and 18th meant he will survive to see the weekend.
It’s a departure from the script Woods was expected to write after solid comeback performances in the run-up to golf’s first major.
Instead, his round featured vacillating club selection and shots that sent patrons scattering, water gurgling and officials poking around woodsy thicket to find a lost golf ball.
Woods bogeyed the first hole and double bogeyed the fifth, where he whacked a drive into the spectators’ area and hit an iron into bushes. He took a drop from within the brush and punched the drop out of the woods into a bunker. After a smooth out — such relief — his double-bogey putt finally seemed to stabilize a haywire day.
He made pars on the sixth through the 11th, then splashed his tee-shot on the par-3 12th. He would make a double bogey five on the hole, dropping back to 5 over par.
But he came back to birdie the 13th and 15th to stay clear of the looming cut line. Meanwhile Australian Marc Leishman, playing in Woods’s group, let slip his early hold on the lead, but still outplayed the four-time Masters champion with a five-under 67. His eagle on the par-5 13th pulled him back within striking distance of Reed, who played a blistering front nine with six birdies, and stayed loose and jovial through the rest of his round.
Before birdieing No. 15, Reed joked with group-mates Charley Hoffman and Adam Hadwin on what time the threesome predicted they’d complete the hole. Hadwin had guessed 6:50 p.m. They finished closer to 6:45.
Phil Mickelson struggles
After flirting with the lead early in his second round Friday, three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson saw his day — and possibly his tournament — go off the rails.
He shot a 7-over 79 on Friday to put him at 5 over for the tournament.
First an attempted punch-out at No. 9 ricocheted hard off a tree and landed near a bush, and Mickelson was eventually forced to take a drop. The triple bogey moved him to 3 over for the day and 1 over for the tournament. Mickelson rallied with a birdie at the difficult 10th hole, but then recorded a bogey and double bogey on the next two holes, dropping to 3 over for the tournament.
Mickelson, playing in an appealing group with Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler, entered the mix early with a birdie on No. 2 during a tough morning for scoring. He gave that stroke back with a bogey on No. 4, and continued to hang around near the lead until the struggles at No. 9.
His playing partners, meantime, both remained near the top of the leader board for much of Friday’s round. Kuchar, tied for second after Thursday’s opening round, had eight pars and a bogey on the front nine, making the turn at 3 under, with a share of the lead.
Fowler’s round had more fireworks. After bogeying his first hole, the 29-year old made birdie on No. 5, hit a monster putt to save par at No. 6, and then hit another long putt to birdie No. 8 and move to 3 under for the tournament, temporarily in a share of the lead. He bogeyed No. 9 to make the turn at even par on the day and 2 under for the tournament.
Spieth stumbles early, mellows out in back nine
Jordan Spieth, Thursday’s Masters leader after a brilliant opening round, stumbled immediately Friday with a double bogey on the opening hole followed by a bogey on the second. He later bogeyed No. 7 to drop to 4 over on the day.
Spieth’s errant start was particularly surprising given his history on Masters Fridays. In his four previous Masters appearances, he was a combined 9 under par in the second round, with only one over-par round.
He teed off shortly before 11 a.m. Eastern Friday in a group with Alex Noren and Louis Oosthuizen, still holding a two-shot lead and seeking to win his second Masters. He had seemed ready to run away from the field late Thursday, but a bogey on No. 18 coupled with Friday’s rocky opening changed those thoughts.
Spieth wasn’t the only golfer to face trouble in the early going Friday. At one point Friday morning, of 36 players on the course, only Webb Simpson had managed to be under par. As of 12:30, Ryan Moore was the only player on the course better than 1 under par on the day.
But after he made the turn for home, Spieth’s round calmed down for a Friday 74, putting him 4 under par. He parred nine of his last 11 holes, and birdied Nos. 13 and 15, where he’s a combined 4 under through two rounds.
Odd featured group
As usual, there were plenty of complaints about watching the morning Masters coverage. This time, much of the anger seemed focused at the featured groups shown on the Masters online stream, neither of which featured Spieth, the first round leader. One group featured three popular players and early contenders, in Mickelson, Kuchar and Fowler, all of whom at least flirted with the lead Friday morning.
The second of Friday morning’s featured groups? How about Fred Couples, Li Haotong and amateur Joaquin Niemann. While the 58-year old Couples played the front 9 in 1 under Friday, the other two players struggled: Niemann was 3 over at the turn, and Li was 6 over.
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