Trio of Champion Golfers perfectly poised at Augusta
The top end of The Masters leaderboard is littered with golf’s biggest names and in Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, three Champion Golfers are ready to strike.
American Patrick Reed shot a brilliant six-under round of 66 to lead on nine-under at Augusta heading into Saturday, with Marc Leishman two shots back in second.
But then come the Champion Golfers past and present rounding out the top five.
Winner at Royal Troon in 2016: Stenson – who celebrated his 42nd birthday on Thursday – is on five-under, with 2014 Open Champion Rory McIlroy and reigning Champion Golfer Jordan Spieth one stroke further back as the players prepare for ‘Moving Day’.
Ice-cool Swede seeks another gear
Stenson has been a model of consistency so far at Augusta, following up his opening birthday round of 69 with five birdies in a score of 70 on Friday.
He chipped in at the 11th to help his second-round cause – one of just ten birdies there on the day – and that means he sits alone in third, only four strokes back of leader, Patrick Reed.
The Swede is playing in his 13th Masters but there’s been no jinx so far, although the 2016 Champion Golfer claims there’s still more to come over the weekend.
“I again managed my way around the golf course in a good way,” said Stenson. “My irons and putter feel good."
"I wish for a little bit better on the long game but I kept it together nicely. All in all, I’m in a good spot and I'd like to feel I've got another gear for the weekend."
Spieth fights to stay in contention
Jordan Spieth was always going to find it tough to match his majestic round of 66 from Thursday but if the sign of a Champion is grinding out results when not at your best, the Texan could well be pulling on a second Green Jacket come Sunday.
Entering Friday on six-under, Spieth promptly double-bogeyed the first and bogeyed the second to see his advantage atop the leaderboard eradicated– staring down the barrel at three-over through just two holes.
The largest 36-hole deficit overcome to win the Masters in the last 50 years is 6 shots, done on 5 occasions. That would leave just 7 players: Reed, Leishman, Stenson, McIlroy, Spieth, DJ, JT. I'm hesitant to limit the number of contenders to just that list.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) April 7, 2018
He then also bogeyed the seventh but the reigning Champion Golfer of the Year proved once again he is made of stern stuff, manufacturing birdies on the two par-fives on the back nine – 13 and 15 – to keep himself right in the hunt at four-under.
“I’m still in this golf tournament,” said a defiant Spieth after his round. “With the way the back nine was playing, the wheels could have come off there. But I made some nice par saves and was able to grind out some phenomenal second shot iron shots and good two putt birdies. Not being in the lead could bode well for me.”
McIlroy making moves
While Spieth and world No.1 Dustin Johnson will form one mouth-watering pairing on Saturday, another sees Stenson playing alongside four-time major winner Rory McIlroy.
Notable pairings for Round 3 at #theMasters— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 6, 2018
The Northern Irishman opened up his second round with a bogey, followed up with back-to-back birdies to briefly share the lead, but then got pushed back by further dropped shots at the fourth and sixth.
The 2014 Claret Jug winner made birdie at 13 and 14, however, to join Spieth in tied fourth on four-under – five shots back of Reed – and looks perfectly placed to make a weekend charge.
"I'm a little frustrated I'm not, say, seven-under, but anything under par was pretty good," the 28-year-old explained. "The wind is not up that much, but it's enough to make it really tricky and the pin positions were tough, so it's hard to get it close."
Rampant Reed and best of the rest
Leader Patrick Reed enjoyed three separate runs of three consecutive birdies as he posted a masterful 66 at Augusta.
Having put himself in a strong position following an opening-round 69, the world number 24 birdied the first three holes and although there were three bogeys smattered through his round, the two-shot lead over Leishman – who posted 67 on Friday – and four-shot cushion over the rest of the field sets him up nicely for the weekend.
Reed, who has taken only 51 putts in his first two rounds, including 22 one-putt greens, said: "I was really steady throughout the entire day, got myself in a position where I could attack the pin positions.
“You have to give yourself opportunities and then I let my putter do the work.”
Three-time Open Champion Tiger Woods was left scrambling once more after going three-over on the front nine on Friday but came home in level par to make the cut for the 19th straight time at Augusta at four-over.
Another former Champion Golfer – 2010 winner Louis Oosthuizen – is in contention at two-under, while 2013 Champion at Muirfield Phil Mickelson was just the right side of the cut line at five-over.