AUGUSTA, Ga. – Chasing a first Green Jacket is obviously tough. It is tougher if you start slower than you would have liked.
But a handful of big-name players clawed their way into contention on Friday, as tough scoring conditions presented themselves.
While 2015 winner Jordan Spieth came back to the pack, plenty who want to join him at the Champions Dinner, like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, made their moves.
McIlroy – chasing the career Grand Slam – added a 1-under 71 to his 69 opener to sit 4 under and tied fourth.
Johnson – the world No. 1 – birdied three of his last 11 holes to put up a 68 and move to 3 under and into sixth place.
Thomas – the FedExCup leader – produced a sublime 67 to rebound all the way to sixth place and will start six back Saturday.
Fowler couldn’t buy a putt for most of the day, but scratched out a 72 all the same to stay 2 under.
Rose – the runner up on two occasions – used a 70 to creep up on things and also sit 2 under.
They might not be leading the way – Patrick Reed dominated Friday to post in the clubhouse at 9 under – but they are close enough.
“Being up there around the lead going into the weekend, it’s a good position to be in,” McIlroy said.
“But I think I’m happier with how I’ve felt and how I’ve handled certain things and how my thought process has been. That’s been a pleasing thing.”
McIlroy was referencing his experience. In the past he felt the need to play aggressive almost always. Now he knows – especially on tough days – to bide his time.
And with heavy rain and possible high winds due Saturday, there is going to be plenty of grinding to come.
“Sometimes pars might be a little bit boring and you might feel as if you want to get a little bit more out of your round, but as you look up the leaderboard and you’re still there around the lead, that’s taken awhile for me to adjust to.
“When I first came out here on TOUR, I thought all these guys birdied every hole and you just had to hit unbelievable shot after unbelievable shot and hold the putt afterwards. It’s not quite like that.”
Thomas can make it two majors in a row with a big weekend and further solidify his spot at the top of the FedExCup.
His goal was to find his name on the iconic Augusta scoreboards on Friday and his six birdie, one bogey effort allowed it.
“You always want to see your name on that big board, because that means you’re doing something right, and I was glad to see I got thrown up there later in the day,” he said.
Fowler spent energy not getting annoyed with the plethora of putts that wouldn’t drop for him – instead believing his luck may change on the weekend.
He three-putted the 13th, 15th and 16th holes coming home.
“I’m happy where we’re at after two rounds,” he said.
“Definitely looking forward to the weekend and the putts are definitely due to fall.”
Johnson signaled his intentions early with an eagle on the par-5 second and although he was forced to grind through the middle of the round he stepped up when it counted with a couple of late birdies on 13 and 18.
The last world No. 1 to win the Masters was Tiger Woods in 2002.
In all there are eight major champions with 14 majors between them within seven shots of Reed’s lead. But only Bubba Watson (seven back) has won at Augusta.