Justin Rose enters Saturday at the Masters with a one-stroke lead. Justin Thomas is No. 2 in the world. Tony Finau shot 6-under par on Friday.
And still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the most likely champion this weekend is a guy who in February was ranked No. 92 and a week ago won his first tournament since 2017. Jordan Spieth, tied at sixth at 4-under, is always a threat at the Masters.
Some golfers step onto the grounds and feel their heart rate soar. Some get nervous. Some are baffled. Some resent the course's quirks, how missing a shot by a few feet can leave your ball 30 yards away. And then a few get there and feel at home.
"I don’t really have the pinch-myself moment that I’ve had the first couple years driving up Magnolia Lane,” said Spieth in November. “Now, like today, I went through it and I’m like, ‘Huh. I didn’t enjoy that as much as I should have.’ It was [just] the drive into the club. It kind of gets more normal, which I think is good. … Once I get out on the property here, and get on the golf course, I feel very comfortable. I know I’ve come in here playing well, I know I’ve come in here playing poorly, and it hasn’t made much of a difference certain years. So that sort of takes a little bit of that anxiousness that you might have had. I don’t want to go as far as to call it anxiety. But it allows me to be a little bit more present, a little more patient.”
Friday offered Spieth a perfect Masters sequence. He had made an especially frustrating bogey on No. 12, a hole with which he has a complicated relationship: He birdied it twice en route to winning the Masters in 2015, and it cost him a repeat in ’16 when he hit two balls into Rae’s Creek and made a 7. This time, he put his tee shot on the lip of the bunker—a pace, he said afterward, from a birdie look. Instead the ball dropped into a rake print. His par putt lipped out. He sank his bogey putt, then launched the ball into the stream.
“There's no fans there, a kid to throw it to or anything like that,” he said. “There's no one there. I don't want to look at that golf ball anymore, so it goes into the water and then I go to another ball.”
His goal for Friday was to go 4-under, and he felt he had played better than his 1-under score at that point indicated. Spieth is the kind of passionate player who berates himself as he strides to the next tee. But he also burns fast. He sailed his tee shot on No. 13 into the trees on the right side of the fairway. Then he grabbed a 3-wood and hit a perfect punch cut just short of the green to set up a birdie.
“You look for moments that turn momentum,” he said afterward. “That was a good one for me.”
He'd go on to birdie Nos. 15 and 17, too, to finish the back nine with four birdies and a bogey.
With Tiger Woods recovering from his February car crash, there may be no one onsite with a better understanding of how to play Augusta.
Reigning champion Dustin Johnson, who set the scoring record in November, missed the cut on Friday. DeChambeau is the fifth-ranked player in the world. This is his fifth Masters. But he said on Thursday that he still has to learn how to hit from Augusta’s downhill lies to uphill greens and from its uphill lies to downhill greens. His career-best finish came in 2016, when he finished tied for 21st as the low amateur. In Spieth's first five Masters, he finished T2, 1, T2, T11, 3.
He understands when to be aggressive and when not to. “There's certain pins where we're like, ‘O.K., this is where we're trying to be in two,’” he said. “The left pin on [No.] 2, I'm not trying to get it on the green because it's a harder two-putt from the back right than it is chipping from 50 yards right of the green. There's just certain pins where we start to make adjustments. But there's a way to play each hole. If it's firmer you've got to back off a little bit, and when it's softer you can throw it more at pins.”
After the round, he said he thought the course would play more challenging on Saturday and Sunday. He looked elated at the thought.