Overcast skies and rain were a constant during Friday afternoon at Augusta National. But the inclement weather and a short delay did nothing to dampen the spirits of the patrons. Particularly the strong Australian contingent.
Jason Day gave the Aussie fans the first reasons to cheer. Having struggled with his back all day Thursday, the Queenslander looked far more comfortable during a second round 67 that was partially inspired by wife Ellie telling him to “Suck it up” at their motor home this morning.
“It was funny, you know, obviously I've been battling back issues pretty much this whole year,” Day said. “Having to play four in a row, and starting at kind of Bay Hill, having, you know, epidurals and getting those shots in the back; and then last week, I had another one before the tournament started, and it felt a lot better.
“I was on the putting green yesterday and I went down to kiss my little girl about two minutes before I had to walk on to the tee, and my back went out. It's obviously not the way you wanted to start this year's Masters.
“I got some physio last night, my chiro, Stuart Love, saw him last night, then I saw him again this morning, been icing my back. This is not my first time where my back has gone out, so I kind of know the protocol of trying to get myself back into at least game mode to get out there and play.”
As the afternoon continued, Adam Scott gave the Australians in Augusta and those watching at home on TV even more reason to be excited, the 2013 Masters champion equalling Day’s tournament total of seven under, having got to eight under after a flushed 2-iron post rain delay led to a made four foot eagle putt at 15. Before a three putt bogey at 16 and missed birdie chances at the final two holes meant he would settle for a share of the 36 hole lead.
“I've really worked on everything with the Masters in mind from the start of the year, much like I did in 2013,” Scott said. “I probably have done every year, but a little bit more intent, maybe, this year.
“Certainly some similarities to that year in 2013, you know, where I want to prove to myself that I've got it, and I've worked at it and certainly the last three weeks, I haven't played a golf tournament since The Players and the focus has purely been on being ready for here. So, so far, so good.”
Also throwing their hats in the ring with Scott and Day were fellow major champions Francesco Molinari, Louis Oosthuizen and Brooks Koepka, while Tiger Woods sits just one back, alongside Dustin Johnson, Justin Harding and Xander Schauffele at six under par.
Molinari was the first in the clubhouse at seven under. The Italian once again slipping under the radar for the majority of the pre-tournament coverage in America. Something he says doesn’t bother him in the slightest, despite proving himself to be one of the best players in the world time and time again over the past two years. The reigning Open champion was circumspect when assessing his place on the leaderboard after two rounds.
“Really happy the way I played and the way we managed the strategy with my caddie. But yeah, obviously still a long, long way to go, so let's see what we'll be able to do on the weekend,” Molinari said.
The 2018 Ryder Cup hero’s bogey free round on a wet Augusta National that is playing longer than in recent memory something that would not have been possible before recent distance gains according to coach Denis Pugh, who indicated this very situation was the impetuous for swing and fitness changes.
“No,” Pugh wryly said when asked if the previous iteration of Molinari could compete on the same course before the work the two have put in to add power. “That’s the whole purpose of doing the work was to be able to do what he is doing right now and be able to compete on a big course with big hitters.”
Similarly Scott’s coach and brother-in-law Brad Malone reinforced Adam’s statements that their focus has been on building his game for this week throughout the early stages of 2019.
“We’ve just been going over the basics, stuff that has worked in the past. Keep doing the same things, chip away at it and get better day by day, nothing out of the ordinary,” Malone said.
“He’s definitely been moving in the right direction, off the back of the PGA last year,” he added when asked if Scott’s good form at Augusta was expected based on their recent work.
RIGHT: Woods had the patrons at Augusta National cheering loudly late on Friday as he made a charge on the back nine. PHOTO: David Cannon/Getty Images.
Like so many on top of the leaderboard, Scott has made hay on Augusta National’s back nine throughout the opening two rounds of the 83rd Masters. The Queenslander recording birdies at 12 and 13 on Friday and acknowledging his ability to stay patient at a venue where he has constantly described being “at peace” throughout the week as a key to his position on the leaderboard. With his putting solid, without being brilliant so far at Augusta.
“It's easy to stay patient if you're hitting it well here, you know, because you're going to give yourself some chances, and eventually they are going to go in,” Scott said.
“All parts of my game, I'm very confident in at the moment, and you know, when I am hitting it well, that's where I play my best golf from, generally.
“So that helps me stay calm out there, and patient, and all the things that you're meant to be doing, I guess, when you're playing major championships.
“A hot putter will go a long way on the weekend. But if I can rely on that ball‑striking, then that will take some of the pressure off and maybe free me up a little bit.”
With Scott and Day in the clubhouse sitting atop one of the most stacked major championship leaderboards in recent memory, the atmosphere at Augusta National remained electric as Woods attempted to make it a six-way tie at the top.
The 14-time major winner made birdies at 11 and 12, before a massive roar rung out among the pines when Tiger holed a birdie putt at the 14th despite a security official sliding into his right leg as he attempted to hold the patrons back after Woods struck his second shot from the left rough. Woods hobbling at first before regaining his composure and unleashing a trademark fist pump after his perfectly weighted putt that was followed by another birdie at the par-5 15th. The former World No.1 closing with three straight pars.
“I’m fine. It's all good. Accidents happen and move on,” Woods said of the incident with the security guard.
“I missed a few putts out there but I'm not too bummed out about it because I hit them on my lines. So I can live with that. I can live with days when I'm hitting putts on my line and they just don't go in, that's the way it goes.
RIGHT: Scott believes that his putting will hold the key to his attempt to win a second green jacket over the weekend. PHOTO: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.
“But I also made some distance putts there at 9, 14, 15, those were, they were nice to make and if I keep hitting the putts on my line, they will start dropping.”
Woods ominous presence among seven major winners within the top nine players on the leaderboard and 36 holes remaining in potentially nasty weather, means the tournament certainly remains anyone’s.
But as a past winner and having rediscovered his best golf after the difficult decision to skip the Australian summer, Scott was confident of his chances of collecting a second green jacket in eerily similar conditions to Sunday in 2013.
“As a golf fan, I like it. As a player, I'd rather be like six in front or something,” Scott said when asked of the quality of players on the leaderboard.
“But it's great. Look, at the end of the day, I'm tied for the lead in the Masters. You can't ask to be in a better position. I don't really mind who's there. I believe I've got the game to match it with everyone these days, and you know, it's always a knife edge on who comes out on top of these things.”
Day was simply happy to have completed two rounds rather than having to withdraw after Thursday’s injury issues, and wasn’t getting ahead of himself despite his position on the leaderboard. While also acknowledging that if he continues in the same vain as Friday he is a very realistic chance of joining Scott at the 2020 Champions’ dinner.
“It would be more of a disappointing feeling for me to be able to go home yesterday, knowing that I had to pull out because of my back, and I feel very blessed to be able to play, especially over the last two days, and being able to go out there today and shoot 67, was a very, very good score,” Day said after his round that included six birdies, four of which came on Augusta’s par-5s.
“So I can't get ahead of myself. There's still 36 holes left, so the main goal is to get myself into contention and hopefully I can do that by Sunday, and if I can do that, then maybe capitalise on the opportunities and hopefully grab a green jacket. That would be nice.
“Over the last two days, I've played the par 5s nicely. I think I've played them seven‑under, which is good. Try to minimise the mistakes out there, and you know, that's the whole goal. If you can get yourself in position and get yourself close to the green or on the green, great. If not, you know, and you're out of position, get yourself back into position and wedge it on close and hopefully hole the putt.”
Day and Scott’s compatriots Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman were unable to take the same advantage of the receptive soft greens after the consistent rain throughout Friday and earlier in the week. Smith recording a two over par 74 with only two birdies to sit at even par, while Leishman signed for a second consecutive 72 to be tied with Smith, seven shots back of the lead.
With an uneven number making the cut at three over par, Eddie Pepperell will go out in the first tee time on Saturday morning at 9:05am with Augusta National member and marker Jeff Knox, while World No.1 Justin Rose, 2017 champion Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey were among the notable players that will have the weekend off.