Patrick Reed, seen here at the par-5 13th, one of nine holes he birdied Friday en route to a two-shot lead at the Masters. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
AUGUSTA, Ga.— Patrick Reed playing golf in calm conditions, that’s sort of the yin and yang of golf. So much of Friday at the Masters was gusty, with winds shifting and dancing and generally messing with minds. But Reed played in the last group of the day. So when he added some spice — by yelling at his ball or himself, be it appropriate or not — it cut across Augusta National Golf Club. The bluster had died down a bit. Yet Reed can still huff and puff.
The Masters is only halfway over, and the wind might yet have more of a say. But after 36 holes, Reed is coloring it with his personality and his play. The 27-year-old who’s never afraid to say precisely what pops in his head managed the best score of Friday’s second round, a 66 that got him to 9 under par, providing a two-shot lead over Australian Marc Leishman.
Not too long ago, Reed was helping lead the local college team, Augusta State, to back-to-back NCAA championships. Even in those days, his assessment of whether he belonged at the next level — competing in and winning majors — was unwavering.
“Everyone wants to win,” he said Friday evening. “And if you don’t believe you can win them, you probably shouldn’t be playing in them.”
Reed is playing and leading, and Leishman is closely in his rearview. A win this weekend for either would provide a signature moment, a first major championship. But the pack behind them, it’s dotted with accomplishments. Lurking at 4 under are golf’s two heavyweight young stars, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, who have seven majors between them. And look at the other major winners there, too: British Open champ Henrik Stenson, a stroke better at 5 under; Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open) and Justin Thomas (PGA Championship) a couple more back at 3 under.
“It’s always an awesome leader board,” Leishman said.
And Reed’s name fits. For a player who has spent time ranked in the top 10 in the world and has some heady victories — 2014 at Doral, when he brassily declared himself a top-five player, 2016 at the Barclays — Reed’s record in majors is spotty. He has contended just once, last year at the PGA, where he finished two shots back of winner Justin Thomas. His Masters record, in four trips here, was, quite frankly, disappointing — two missed cuts, never a round in the 60s.
Yet in the first two rounds, it’s as if he read the manual on how to work your way around this place — and executed. His opening 69 included birdies on all four par-5s. Friday, he pulled off that trick again while largely remaining patient on the other holes.
“The more you get to play out here,” he said, “the more you get to find more subtleties and nuances that you need to know about.”
But he is also a known commodity, a Ryder Cup hero and character. His singles match against McIlroy at the 2016 Ryder Cup was epic, with behavior anathema to what is expected on these grounds. Reed wagged his finger at McIlroy. McIlroy shushed the crowd. Reed fired them up. After all the chaos, Reed closed out McIlroy at 18, and the route to the American victory was mowed.
“Of course Ryder Cup, it gets you kind of high-adrenaline, craziness going on,” Reed said. “It’s just one of these things, to me it’s still golf.”
So he is comfortable being the focus of the action. Saturday will be a different stage — the final group in a major on the weekend, when he will play with Leishman, whose second-round 67 was marked by a massively hooked second shot to the par-5 15th, where he made eagle. But by Saturday evening, Reed could be ceding the stage to the weather. Rain is predicted, and it could be coupled with wind. Friday showed how finicky Augusta becomes with just one of those elements.
“There’s a fine line between birdies and bogeys,” said Matt Kuchar, who shared the lead for much of the morning but stumbled to a 75. “It’s one of those days where I’m kind of anxious to kick my feet up in the house and watch the guys deal with it the rest of the afternoon.”
Dealing with it was difficult for just about everybody, particularly those who played earlier. Spieth began his day with a two-shot lead, and by the time he finished one hole, it was gone — a lousy tee shot leading to a double bogey at the first. His second straight wayward drive led to the unforgivable — bogey at the normally tame par-5 second. When he got to the downhill par-3 sixth, the flag blew stiff, as if on the deck of a ship fighting a storm at sea, not at the bottom of a hill in a place as tranquil as this. He made another bogey at 7, and shot 40 on the opening nine.
So here he was, having stormed the course Thursday, wavering. Spieth is only 24. But as he pointed out after his opening 66, he has already dealt with everything Augusta National can offer — the opportunity to master it, as he did in 2015, and the danger around each corner, as he found in a final-round collapse the following year. So he had a conversation with his caddie, Michael Geller.
“I’ve taken a lot of punches on this golf course — and in tournaments in general,” Spieth said. “I told Michael, ‘Look, when this course plays tough, I’m good for a double here or some bogeys there. Let’s make these the only ones.’”
From there, he was steady, and reeled in a day that might have slipped away, making birdies at the two par-5s on the back to turn in a 74. “I’m still in this golf tournament,” Spieth said, and he was right.
McIlroy is as well, though his 71 was a bit less eventful than Spieth’s round. The two of them in contention is the kind of theater the Masters seems to provide.
“I’ve always felt comfortable being up around the lead,” McIlroy said. “It’s a place that I’m thankfully quite familiar with and know how to deal with.”
Saturday, Patrick Reed will become familiar with it. Will he be comfortable?
“It’s not a position I feel that’s really any different,” Reed said.
He is comfortable being himself. He is comfortable at center stage. He is comfortable bellowing into the breeze. “I like it when it gets challenging,” he said.
Half the challenges, the first 36 holes, are behind him. Those that await over the weekend are greater, more intense. He answers questions about his ability and potential with the utmost confidence. Now, he must play with it too.
Woods will play the weekend
Tiger Woods, the most-watched figure at the Masters, made the march up the 18th fairway at Augusta National Golf Club to roars and applause, but he’ll want to forget his Friday round at the Masters.
He carded a 3-over 75, putting him at four over in the tournament and 13 shots behind the leader, Patrick Reed, who finished at 9 under par after shooting a 6-under 66, the low round of the day.
Woods was shaky from the very beginning of his round. His drives were unreliable and he overshot greens from the fairway. He straddled the cut line as he waded through the shady back nine in the Georgia twilight, but a birdie on No. 15 and pars at the 17th and 18th mean he will survive to see the weekend.
It’s a departure from the script Woods was expected to write after solid comeback performances on the PGA Tour in the run-up to golf’s first major.
Instead, his round featured vacillating club selection and shots that sent patrons scattering, water gurgling and officials poking around woodsy thicket to find a lost golf ball.
Woods bogeyed the first hole and double bogeyed the fifth, where he whacked a drive into the spectators’ area and hit an iron into bushes. He took a drop from within the brush and punched the drop out of the woods into a bunker. After a smooth out — such relief — his double-bogey putt finally seemed to stabilize a haywire day.
He made pars on the sixth through the 11th, then splashed his tee-shot on the par-three 12th. He would make a double bogey five on the hole, dropping back to 5 over par.
But he came back to birdie the 13th and 15th to stay clear of the looming cut line. Meanwhile Australian Marc Leishman, playing in Woods’s group, let slip his early hold on the lead, but still out-played the four-time Masters champion with a five-under 67. His eagle on the par-5 13th pulled him back within striking distance of Reed, who played a blistering front nine with six birdies, and stayed loose and jovial through the rest of his round.
Before birdieing No. 15, Reed joked with group-mates Charley Hoffman and Adam Hadwin on what time the threesome predicted they’d complete the hole. Hadwin had guessed 6:50 p.m. They finished closer to 6:45.
Phil Mickelson in danger of missing the cut
After flirting with the lead early in his second round Friday, three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson saw his day — and possibly his tournament — go off the rails.
He shot a 7 over 79 on Friday to put him at 5 over for the tournament, very near the projected cut line. The Masters only keeps the top 50 scorers and those within 10 shots of the lead.
He is 10 shots back of co-leaders Marc Leishman and Patrick Reed, who both have yet to enter the back nine.
First an attempted punch-out at No. 9 ricocheted hard off a tree and landed near a bush, and Mickelson was eventually forced to take a drop. The triple bogey moved him to 3 over for the day and 1 over for the tournament. Mickelson rallied with a birdie at the difficult 10th hole, but then recorded a bogey and double bogey on the next two holes, dropping to 3 over for the tournament.
Mickelson, playing in an appealing group with Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler, entered the mix early with a birdie on No. 2 during a tough morning for scoring. He gave that stroke back with a bogey on No. 4, and continued to hang around near the lead until the struggles at No. 9.
His playing partners, meantime, both remained near the top of the leader board for much of Friday’s round. Kuchar, tied for second after Thursday’s opening round, had eight pars and a bogey on the front nine, making the turn at 3 under, with a share of the lead.
Fowler’s round had more fireworks. After bogeying his first hole, the 29-year old made birdie on No. 5, hit a monster putt to save par at No. 6, and then hit another long putt to birdie No. 8 and move to 3 under for the tournament, temporarily in a share of the lead. He bogeyed No. 9 to make the turn at even par on the day and 2 under for the tournament.
Patrick Reed holding on to the lead
American Patrick Reed has a three-shot lead Friday at the Masters, sitting at 10 under par. Reed had six birdies on his first nine holes and is in the red on the back nine with birdies on the par-5 13th, par-4 14th and par-5 15th.
Austrailian Marc Leishman sits three shots back, but two holes ahead.
Leishman led through the early part of the afternoon after three birdies to open his round. But since, he parred his next eight holes and Reed made a run to the top of the field.
Rory McIlroy is 4 under after a carding a 71. Henrik Stenson and Jordan Speith are also 4 under.
Spieth stumbles early, mellows out in back nine
Jordan Spieth, Thursday’s Masters leader after a brilliant opening round, stumbled immediately Friday with a double bogey on the opening hole followed by a bogey on the second. He later bogeyed No. 7 to drop to 4 over on the day.
Spieth’s errant start was particularly surprising given his history on Masters Fridays. In his four previous Masters appearances, he was a combined 9 under par in the second round, with only one over-par round.
He teed off shortly before 11 a.m. Eastern Friday in a group with Alex Noren and Louis Oosthuizen, still holding a two-shot lead and seeking to win his second Masters. He had seemed ready to run away from the field late Thursday, but a bogey on No. 18 coupled with Friday’s rocky opening changed those thoughts.
Spieth wasn’t the only golfer to face trouble in the early going Friday. At one point Friday morning, of 36 players on the course, only Webb Simpson had managed to be under par. As of 12:30, Ryan Moore was the only player on the course better than 1 under par on the day.
By the early afternoon, as many as eight players were tied for the lead at 3 under. The crowd at 3 under included four players who hadn’t yet teed off and were among the last of Friday’s scheduled starters: Henrik Stenson, Adam Hadwin, Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.
Rory McIlroy, needing a Masters win to complete a career Grand Slam, opened his round bogey-birdie-birdie to tie Kuchar for the lead at 4 under par, before encountering troubles of his own. Two bogeys later, McIlroy made the turn at 2 under for the tournament.
But after he made the turn for home, Speith’s round calmed down for a Friday 74, putting him 4 under par. He parred nine of his last 11 holes, and birdied Nos. 13 and 15, where he’s a combined 4 under through two rounds.
Finau falls back
Tony Finau, author of the strangest Masters story line this week, also stumbled Friday, dropping two strokes in a round of 74, dropping him to 2 under, three shots back of the lead.
The 28-year old Masters rookie from Utah had badly rolled his ankle in Wednesday’s par-3 contest, suffering a high ankle sprain that seemed to put his Masters prospects in jeopardy. But he managed a round of 4-under 68 on Thursday, putting him in a tie for second with fellow American Kuchar, two shots behind Spieth.
“When I woke up this morning, nothing short of a miracle, if you ask me,” Finau said Thursday. “I could barely put any pressure on [the ankle]. I could barely walk.”
Finau was among the first of the Masters leaders to tee off Friday, and he bogeyed the first hole for the second day in a row. He didn’t record a birdie on the front nine, then played an even back nine, after bogeying No. 11, a par 5 and birdieing No. 18, a par 4.
Kuchar drifts after strong first day
Matt Kuchar was two shots off Jordan Speith’s Thursday lead, but carded a 3 over 75 on Friday to slide back to one under par overall and four shots back of the lead.
His strong back nine a day earlier put him in contention with Speith, but he bogeyed the par 5 15th and par 4 18th, places were scored in his earlier round.
Odd featured group
As usual, there were plenty of complaints about watching the morning Masters coverage. This time, much of the anger seemed focused at the featured groups shown on the Masters online stream, neither of which featured Spieth, the first round leader. One group featured three popular players and early contenders, in Mickelson, Kuchar and Fowler, all of whom at least flirted with the lead Friday morning.
The second of Friday morning’s featured groups? How about Fred Couples, Li Haotong and amateur Joaquin Niemann. While the 58-year old Couples played the front 9 in 1 under Friday, the other two players struggled: Niemann was 3 over at the turn, and Li was 6 over.
Spieth sets the pace
One round into the Masters, the tournament already feels like it’s Jordan Spieth’s to lose. The 24-year-old past Masters champion and three-time major winner singed the course Thursday afternoon, reeling off five straight birdies on the back nine to take a two-shot lead.
His Augusta history makes that performance even more impressive. In his first three Masters appearances, as The Post’s Barry Svlurga noted during Thursday’s coverage, Spieth finished second, first and second. He has played 17 career rounds in the Masters. He has led alone or shared the lead after nine of them. That equals the number of Masters rounds Tiger Woods has led — and Woods has played this event 20 times. Spieth is appearing in just his fifth Masters.
“We build plans for the year to peak at certain times,” Spieth said after finishing the first round at 6 under par. “And I believe that not just here at Augusta, but the major championships going back a number of years, I’ve played really well.”
Then consider the recent history of this tournament. The last 12 Masters winners were under par and in the top 10 after the first round, according to ESPN. That’s bad news for a host of big names, including Justin Rose (tied for 21st, even par), Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson (both tied for 29th, 1 over), Justin Thomas (tied for 42nd, 2 over), Jason Day (tied for 55th, 3 over) and Woods himself, who finished the first round of his Masters comeback seven shots back after a 1-over 73.
The last time the Masters winner wasn’t under par and in the top 10 after the first round was 2005, when Woods rallied from 2 over and a tie for 33rd to claim his fourth and most recent green jacket.
So who else finished in Thursday’s top 10? After Finau and Kuchar, there’s a seven-way tie at 3 under, three shots behind Spieth’s mark. That group includes a pair of Americans — Charley Hoffman and Patrick Reed, the latter of whom sparred with Spieth at a recent match-play event. There’s also a grab bag of international players: Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, Canadian Adam Hadwin, China’s Li Haotong, Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Rory McIlroy, other than Spieth the biggest name in the top 10. McIlroy, needing a Masters win to complete the career Grand Slam, birdied three of Augusta’s four par 5s in his opening round and had just a single bogey.
Defending champion Sergio Garcia saw his chances of repeating disappear on the back nine Thursday when he melted down at the par-5 15th. He arrived there 2 over for the day and had eagled the hole in his final round last year. The 15th is historically the course’s easiest hole.
But Garcia put five balls in the water and carded a 13, two shots higher than anyone had ever recorded at the 15th.
“You saw it,” Garcia said. “I don’t think I need to describe it.”
But on Friday morning, Garcia seemed to see the humor in it all while responding on Twitter to the Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner, who posited that Garcia and his wife won’t be naming their next child Firethorn, after Augusta National’s name for the 15th hole. Garcia’s first child, born last month, was named Azalea after the 13th hole at Augusta, where he began his charge to the green jacket last year.
Read Barry Svrluga’s full report about Garcia’s nightmare.
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