AUGUSTA, Ga. — Thursday at the Masters Tournament was fun. Tiger Woods was back; the roars were back; birdies and eagles were back.
Then came Friday.
Augusta National Golf Club and Mother Nature (or whoever controls the weather here via satellite from the secret clubhouse basement complex — shhh! That’s top secret!) reminded us that, ahem, the Masters is a major championship. Fun is not on the menu.
And it wasn’t. Blustery, uneven winds and chilled afternoon temperatures made conditions tougher than homemade jerky. Unless your name was Scottie Scheffler, who’s on a run reminiscent of fellow Texans Byron Nelson or Ben Hogan; or Stewart Cink, who was half a dozen steps off the 16th tee before he saw his ball dribble down a slope into the cup for a surprise ace, there was a good chance you left the Masters’ second round with a frowny face.
In fact, even Cink was a little frowny. Despite the holed 8-iron shot for ace, he shot 75 and missed the cut. “It was like a dream shot,” said Cink, who turns 49 next month. “To be honest, I’d throw the hole-in-one ball right in the water if I could make the cut and compete for two more rounds. It doesn’t boost my spirits like missing the cut hurts my spirits. I absolutely loathe not playing here on the weekend.”
Except for that, Stewart, have a nice day.
The field was bunched until Scheffler, playing late in the day, birdied 12, 13, 15 and 16 as the wind lessened and opened a four-shot lead over Charl Schwartzel, Sungjae Im, Shane Lowry and defending champion Hideki Matsuyama.
Five shots is nothing with 36 holes to play at treacherous Augusta National. Except in this case, the man with the edge has won three times since February, vaulted to No. 1 in the world ranking and is playing better golf than anyone else. It could be considered superior golf, actually. Scheffler is the last man the Masters pursuers want to see in the lead. It’s a little like chasing Woods back in his prime, only without the intimidation factor.
On a day when only four other players shot scores in the 60s, led by Justin Thomas’ 67 and Lowry’s 68, Scheffler racked up seven birdies and played the last 12 holes in 6 under par to shoot 67 and open a whopping five-stroke edge.
“If anything, that lead gives me more confidence,” said Scheffler, a University of Texas alum. “My first thought when I opened a lead was to just keep building it.”
Scheffler’s advantage ties the largest 36-hole lead in Masters history, a mark shared by Jordan Spieth, 2015; Raymond Floyd, 1976; Jack Nicklaus, 1975; Herman Keiser, 1946; and Harry Cooper, 1936. All but Cooper, who finished runner-up to Horton Smith, went on to win.
“I’ve kept the scorecard pretty clean for the most part, which is nice,” Scheffler said. “The front nine was such a grind. The wind was crazy, sand was blowing up out of the bunkers. I feel like my game is in a good spot. If I win this golf tournament, great. If I don’t, I did everything I could.”
The game plan devised by Scheffler and his caddie, Teddy Scott, is simple.
“We’re just trying to play this course like Bernhard Langer does,” Scheffler said. “He plays this course well every year no matter how old he is.”
Scores at Augusta National averaged about a stroke higher on Friday than on Thursday. That doesn’t sound like much but a lot of players caught a double helping of Reality Check in the second round. Seventeen players broke par in the first round. Only 13 players managed to do it Friday.
After his scrappy opening 71, Woods returned and bogeyed four of the first five holes. Only a strong second-nine rally enabled him to shoot 74 and make the cut. He is tied for 19th, nine strokes behind Scheffler.
Two-time Masters champ Jordan Spieth dunked two donuts in Rae’s Creek at the 12th hole en route to a triple bogey. Xander Schauffele shot 77, Justin Rose fired 76 and Bryson DeChambeau, who is playing with a wrist and hip injury, went 76-80.
Individual big numbers weren’t out in force. Mostly, the players who struggled Friday bled bogeys as they played a futile guessing game with shifting cold winds from the west and northwest.
“We waited out a lot of shots today because the wind is going from 8 to 10 (mph) to about 25 in a blink,” said Will Zalatoris, last year’s runnerup. “You get a gust that might be a little downwind or a little into you and you could be off by 20 yards. So, it’s brutal out there. This is Augusta and you know that it’s a fight.”
The wind machine didn’t fight fair, either. Zalatoris said his hat almost blew off on the 10th tee as he prepared to hit. He posted an even-par 72. “Any time you walk off with par, you need to be happy,” he said.
Sergio Garcia managed to make five birdies but still shot 74. “To be totally honest, I felt like I played fairly well,” the 2017 Masters champion said. “I shot 74, I feel like I shot 86. It feels like I just came out of 10 rounds with Canelo (Alvarez, boxing champion).”
Garcia has long expressed his frustration about playing this course. He was among Friday’s leading Not-Having-Funners. At the 11th hole, he skanked a low shot well right of the green, then pitched too strongly and watched his ball roll off the edge of the green, down the bank and into the pond. He made a triple bogey.
“I wanted to hang myself on 11,” Garcia said. He was joking. Probably.
He birdied the last two holes, which had to have brightened his outlook. Asked if the momentum from a birdie-birdie finish would carry over into Saturday, he answered, “Probably not.”
He added, “This golf course … I don’t know. It’s difficult for me to get it going here, other than one year.”
Rory McIlroy, looking to complete the career Grand Slam with a Masters victory, isn’t in prime position at 2 over par. Like Garcia, he stumbled at the 11th, making a double bogey there after a bogey at 10. McIlroy flared his approach shot from the fairway into the gallery on the right, pitched onto the green’s front and three-putted from 15 feet.
At least he got his approach at the par-3 12th on the green and made par.
“Jordan Spieth hit two in the water in front of us there, so that wasn’t a great visual,” McIlroy said. “Then Brooks hit first (at 12) and hit it straight over the green. The wind died. It’s just so up and down. I’m glad to be off the course at this point. This is what major championship golf is all about. It’s not easy and it’s not supposed to be easy. The conditions look pretty similar tomorrow as well, so I’m looking forward to that.”
The shot of the day next to Cink’s ace was one that probably won’t be seen on the highlights. Two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson pulled a tee shot into the left trees at the 18th hole. He didn’t appear to have an opening and his ball was surrounded by leaves. Right when he was about to swing, another gust of wind dropped a leaf right on top of his ball.
Watson carefully removed it, after alerting a rules official, and then decided to risk going for the green even though at 3 over par at the time, he was close to the potential cut line.
“You can’t even make this up,” Watson said later. “I’ll be honest, that was the best shot I’ve ever hit at Augusta National … If I hit a pitching wedge as hard as I can straight up, I thought I could hit a gap. It went straight up, then a gust from the gods blew. It was a pitching wedge from 183 and somehow it went a foot from the hole."
The somehow happened when it took a bounce onto the green’s right-side mound, then kicked off that and trickled close like it was a carefully struck putt. Watson said yes, that shot was even better than the one from the trees he played at the 10th to win the 2012 Masters in a playoff. “Nobody on the planet would have tried that shot,” Watson said.
The birdie lifted Watson to 23rd place. Now he’s playing on the weekend, when anything can happen. So is Scheffler, who played in Friday’s final group and will do so likewise Saturday.
“I’m in a position to win this golf tournament, I couldn’t ask for anything more after 36 holes,” Scheffler said. “I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing and not overthink things.”
The weekend could be. More fun than Friday, anyway.
More Round 2 Coverage from The Masters
- Schwartzel Summons Old Masters Vibes to Contend
- Tiger Defies the Odds to Make the Cut Once Again
- Amen Corner was a Survival Test and Not Everyone Did
- Tiger 'Just Another Golfer' Expecting More Now
- The most compelling Tea Olive in Augusta
- Watch: Masters Day 3 Preview