Masters crowded at the top at halfway point

April 8, 2017

AUGUSTA — Game on at the 81st Masters Tournament.

A second day of gusting winds at Augusta National Golf Club on Friday saw the leaderboard tighten up, with first-round leader Charley Hoffman’s potential runaway turning into a crowded party at the top.

Hoffman’s four-stroke lead, the largest 18-hole advantage at the Masters in 62 years, is no more. Instead, after a second-round 75, he’s one of four – joining Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia and Thomas Pieters – that share the lead at 4 under.

“Yeah, obviously a lot more difficult today. No, I just wasn’t quite in position like I was yesterday,” said Hoffman who reached 8 under early in the day before bogeying five of six holes from 6 to 11. ”... Just wasn’t in position to attack this golf course, which in turn, as everybody knows, you can make bogeys pretty quick. Happy with the way I finished. Closed the last seven 1 under, and gave myself a chance going into the weekend.”

Hoffman wasn’t the only one to give himself a chance. Nine players are under par, and 11 are within five shots of the leaders.

Fowler ascended the leaderboard with a 5-under 67, the best round of the day. He eagled 2 and birdied 3, and he said that hot start gave him a little bit of cushion heading into the more difficult holes ahead of him. He made only one bogey.

Garcia, 37 and still seeking his first major title, had three squares on his card, but the most noteworthy of the trio was the bogey on 10 – because he was one of very few on the grounds who knew that he had made one. A scoring error led to the scoreboards displaying a triple bogey for Garcia on the 10th, leading patrons to believe he was two shots worse than he actually was.

That wasn’t the only first for Garcia – the veteran birdied the first three holes of the day for the first time ever at the Masters. He started the day seven shots out of the lead, but he didn’t enter Friday’s round with a target score in mind.

“No. I would lie if I tell you – obviously I wanted to play well. Obviously I wanted to see if I could shoot under par again,” he said. “I would have taken 1-under par before I started, because the day was at least as tough as yesterday. And we saw how difficult it was yesterday. ... So I’m very pleased with my round overall.”

Pieters fired a 68 Friday, including a 33 on the back nine a day after he fell from 5 under to even with a back-nine 40. He approached the tournament hoping to get himself into contention Sunday, and he’s looking forward to the calmer winds in the forecast.

“Nothing different but I feel like it’s going to play a bit easier and make a bit more birdies,” he said. “You won’t have to – it’s mentally so tiring when you’re in the wind all day. Obviously you have to focus on every golf shot, but these golf shots get a lot tougher when there’s a lot of wind.”

Will McGirt is alone at 2 under after shooting 73. Rookie Jon Rahm and the ageless Fred Couples are at 1 under, along with Justin Rose and Ryan Moore. Moore had one of the nicest rounds of the day, posting a bogey-free 69.

Defending champion Danny Willett headlines the list of players who missed the cut. Fifty-three players are around for the weekend, including Aiken’s Kevin Kisner.

Adam Scott, who played with Kisner, and Jordan Spieth both shot 69 and are at even along with three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson.

Rory McIlroy heads up the group at 1 over. He was even before his approach shot on 18 hit the flag stick and bounded away from the cup, leaving him with a bogey 5.

In all, it’s one of the Masters’ most crowded leaderboards heading into Saturday’s third round. Though many players don’t keep an eye on the scores throughout the round, Fowler will be watching intently.

“I love looking up and seeing the big leaderboards,” he said. “It’s a cool thing about Augusta, very old school with the non-electronic leaderboards out there. It’s a lot of fun to see your name up there, so hopefully I can go ahead and keep it up on the big leaderboards.”