AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Fans of dominant, wire-to-wire performances and runaway winners, this Masters is not for them.
Forget a Tiger Woods’ style blowout. Unlike that performance 20 years ago, Augusta National has a traffic jam atop the leaderboard that will likely take the entire weekend to untangle.
Sergio Garcia , Rickie Fowler , Charley Hoffman and Masters rookie Thomas Pieters are tied at 4-under 140 through two rounds of the year’s first major. William McGirt is next at 2 under with Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose and ageless Fred Couples heading another group three shots behind.
At even par are three past champions in Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, all capable of grabbing this event by the throat over the weekend.
“We’re in a positon now where we,” Spieth said, “I think, can go out there and win this thing.”
Join a crowded club.
There are 18 players within six shots of the lead, a margin that can shrink as quickly as a couple of crowd-pleasing eagles on the 13th and 15th holes. That group includes world No. 2 Rory McIlroy, who was only five shots behind despite not shooting under par either of the first two rounds.
“If I can put together a 67 or a 66 tomorrow, I feel like I’ll be right in there for Sunday,” said McIlroy, seeking to complete the career grand slam with a missing Masters win.
Hoffman held a four-shot lead after a first-round 65. He ballooned to a 75 with five bogeys in a six-hole stretch. Hoffman was happy to walk off the course with a share of first.
“Being in position going into Saturday here at the Masters is going to be special,” Hoffman said. “I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself, but I’d be lying to say it’s not a great feeling and a great spot to be.”
It’s a sentiment shared by most of the top 20 after the first two rounds here.
Some other things to watch in Saturday’s third round of the Masters:
KEEP AN EYE ON: Jordan Spieth bounced back from a quadruple-bogey in the opening round to shoot 69, putting himself right back in the mix at even-par 144 for the tournament. Spieth won the green jacket in 2015 and was the runner-up in his other two appearances. Among the other contenders: former U.S. Open winner Justin Rose (143) and past Masters champions Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson (both at 144).
AGELESS COUPLES: Oh, and let’s not forget ageless Fred Couples, who surged into contention a quarter-century after winning the green jacket. The 57-year-old shot 70, closing with a brilliant birdie on the 18th hole for a 143 at the midway point. “I really know the course very well,” Couples said. “I feel like my age is still OK, because I can drive it far enough.” Couples was one of three players from the 50-and-older crowd who advanced to the weekend. The others were 50-year-old Steve Stricker and 58-year-old Larry Mize.
HEADING HOME: Defending champion Danny Willett made a snowman at the first hole and never quite recovered. The quadruple-bogey led to a 78 that kept him from returning for the weekend by a single stroke. He was the first reigning champion to miss the cut since Mike Weir in 2004. Also heading home early was two-time champion Bubba Watson, who had made the cut in all eight of his previous Masters appearances. Some other former winners who won’t be making use of their green jackets come Sunday: Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson and Vijay Singh.
AMATEUR HOUR: A pair of amateurs are still around, led by 25-year-old Californian Stewart Hagestad. After rallying from a four-hole deficit with five holes remaining to win the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, he kept up his strong play at Augusta National with a 3-over 147 that easily sent him through to the final two rounds. Also making the cut was 20-year-old Australian Curtis Luck, who qualified for Augusta by winning both the U.S. Amateur and the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. He was at 150 — right on the cut line.
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