The wind – not Jordan Spieth – prevailed Friday at the Masters.
Spieth maintained his lead at Augusta National with a 2-over 74 for a two-day total of 140, one shot better than Rory McIlroy. They’ll play in Saturday’s final, dream-for-CBS pairing at 2:50 p.m.
McIlroy’s 1-under 71 was the round of the day, made all the more impressive because it came during a second consecutive day of windy, blustery conditions that made every shot an adventure.
“Anything under par (Friday) with the conditions and some of the pin positions, I’m really happy with that and in a good position going into the weekend,” said McIlroy, who would complete a career grand slam by winning the Masters.
Spieth, who finished on top of the leader board at Augusta for a sixth consecutive round (dating back to the 2015 tournament), never lost the lead Friday, and it grew to as many as six shots early after he birdied the first and third holes. But he began to come back to the field when he double-bogeyed No. 5.
McIlroy, in the meantime, had birdies on three of four holes on the back nine. And when Spieth bogeyed 16 and 17, the lead was cut to one stroke.
“I dropped a few (shots), but all in all I’m still in the lead,” said Spieth, who recently gave up the world’s No. 1 ranking to Jason Day. “But we were having to adjust to ever-changing gusts and winds. It was tough to score.”
More wind and dry conditions are forecast for Saturday.
Spieth and McIlroy aren’t the only contenders. Danny Lee and Scott Piercy are two shots back, while three are tied for fifth – Brandt Snedeker, Soren Kjeldsen and Hideki Matsuyama – three strokes back.
Three who mattered
Jordan Spieth: Looked like he was ready to run away with it until he double-bogeyed No. 5 (his first hole over par of the tournament).
Rory McIlroy: That career grand slam is looking more possible as he heads into the third round just one stroke behind.
Bryson DeChambeau: The amateur was within one shot of playing-partner Spieth until the 18th, when he pulled two drives over the trees down the left side of the fairway. He finished with a triple-bogey and is four behind Spieth.
▪ Lee started the day tied for second and two strokes behind Spieth. After a 2-over 74 Friday, Lee is 2-under for the tournament and still two behind Spieth. It could have been better: Lee bogeyed Nos. 17 and 18.
“I’m just happy,” said Lee, a native of South Korea who is now a New Zealand citizen. “My score is still red, and I might still have a chance to make it up for the next couple days. I don't know what's going to happen out there but sounds like it's going to be very breezy still. But I'm just happy I get to play on the weekend and I have a chance.”
▪ Ernie Els missed the cut, which was not surprising after his 9 on the first hole Thursday. Els had a 1-over 73 Friday and finished with a two-day total of 153. That’s 9-over, meaning he was just 3-over for the 35 holes he played after his early meltdown. He also took a double-bogey on No. 1 Friday.
“I was very down,” Els said of his mindset Friday morning. “Actually, I was not too bad (Thursday) night, and then I slept OK. And then (Friday) morning I felt kind of embarrassed. I didn't feel like myself. And it kind of showed again on the first hole. I missed another very short putt, and I’ve got to address whatever the issue is and see if I can make it better.”
Els said he will do some soul searching to find out what might have happened Friday.
“It could be anxiety, it could be a lot of stuff, so definitely not my normal self, especially the last two days,” he said. “It could be because I'm running out of time at this beautiful place and maybe putting a bit too much pressure on myself to putt like that. So, we'll figure it out.”
▪ Charlotte’s Webb Simpson needed to birdie the 18th hole to make the cut, and he did just that. Simpson’s 5-foot putt gave him an even-par 72 for the day and 5-over for the tournament.
▪ Tom Watson completed his 43rd and final Masters by nearly making a long birdie putt on the 18th green. Watson didn’t make the cut – his pre-tournament goal – and had a two day total of 74-78-152.
“I’m lucky to be able to play in it,” said Watson, a two-time Masters champion. “It's just one of those dreams that came true for me. I watched Arnold Palmer win and Jack (Nicklaus) start winning. And I had dreams that maybe someday I could play in the Masters. And lo and behold, 43 times.”
They said it
“OK, what he’s doing is like what I'm feeling, too, because he seems like he was playing a different golf course.” – Jason Day, on when he saw that Jordan Spieth had taken a double-bogey on No. 5. Day finished with a 1-over 73 and is 1-over for the tournament.
“I’d rather be playing with someone less threatening, to be honest.” – Spieth, on being paired with Roy McIlroy.
“Only four shots back.” – DeChambeau of what his triple-bogey on the 18th meant for his round.