Scottie Scheffler Opens Five-Shot Lead on a Fun Day for Few at the Masters
AUGUSTA (Ga.) — Thursday’s Masters Tournament was great. The roars returned; Tiger Woods was back; birdies were back; eagles and birdies were back.
Augusta National Golf Club, Mother Nature (or whoever controls weather here via satellite from the underground clubhouse complex — shhh! It’s top secret! We were reminded that the Masters is a major championship. Fun is not on the menu.
And it wasn’t. Conditions were more difficult than homemade jerky because of the cold afternoon temperatures and uneven winds. 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 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. “I’m honest with you, I’d throw the hole in one ball right into the water if it was possible to make the cut and compete for another round. It doesn’t lift my spirits the way missing the cut does. 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 instance, the man with the edge won three times since February and vaulted to No. The world number one ranking is the best and he is playing better golf than anyone else. It could even be considered superior golf. Scheffler is the last man Masters followers want to see in the lead. It’s almost like chasing Woods in his prime, but without the intimidation.
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. Scheffler, a University of Texas alum, said that “if anything, that lead gives us more confidence.” “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. Cooper, who was second to Horton Smith, won.
” I’ve kept the scorecard fairly clean for the most parts, which is nice,” Scheffler stated. “The first nine was so difficult. The wind was insane, the bunkers were sanding up. My game feels good. Great if I win this tournament. If I don’t win, I did everything I could .”
Scheffler and his caddie Teddy Scott devised a simple game plan.
” We’re trying to play this golf course like Bernhard Langer,” Scheffler stated. “He plays this course well each year, no matter his age .”
Scores at Augusta National averaged around a stroke higher than on Thursday. Although it doesn’t sound like much, many players got a double dose of Reality Check in round 2. Seventeen players broke par during 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 large numbers weren’t available. The players who were struggling Friday night were mostly unable to keep up with the shifting winds from the northwest and west.
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“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. It’s quite brutal out there. Augusta is here and you know 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. He said, “Anytime you walk away with par, it’s a good sign to be happy.”
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 one of Friday’s top 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 laughing. Probably.
He birdied two of the last holes, which must have brightened his outlook. He was asked if the momentum gained from a birdie/birdie finish would carry into Saturday. He replied, “Probably not .”
.” He added, “This course… I don’t know. It’s hard for me to get it moving here, other than one-year Rory McIlroy. He’s looking to complete the career Grand Slam with victory at the Masters, and isn’t in prime position at two 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 struck two in the water in front us there, so that was not a great visual,” McIlroy stated. “Then Brooks hit first (at 12) and hit it straight over the green. The wind died. It’s so up and down. It’s a relief to be off the course at this moment. This is major championship golf. It’s not easy, and it’s not supposed be easy. Tomorrow’s conditions are similar, so I’m looking forward .”
The shot next to Cink’s ace was the best of the day and one that won’t be featured on the highlights. Two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson pulled a tee shot into the left trees at the 18th hole. His ball was covered in leaves and he didn’t seem to have an opening. Just as he was about swinging, another gust of wind blew a leaf onto 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 it up,” Watson later said. “I’ll admit it, that was the best shot at Augusta National…. If I hit a pitching stick as hard as possible straight up, I thought I would hit a gap. It went straight up, then it was blown by a wind from the gods. It was a pitching wedge from 183 and somehow it went a foot from the hole. The somehow happened when the ball bounced onto the green’s right side mound. It then kicked off and trickled close as if it were a well-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. Watson stated, “Nobody on earth would have attempted that shot.”
The birdie lifted Watson to 23rd place. He’s now playing on the weekend, where anything can happen. Scheffler was also in Friday’s final group, and will be playing 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 going to keep doing what I’ve done and not think about .”
The weekend could be. It could be more fun than Friday.
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
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.