AUGUSTA, Georgia — Now that the wind has had its full say for two entire days, the golfers believe it’s their turn to breathe. They figure there is an addendum to the old saying that the Masters does not begin until the back nine on Sunday. They are ready for it to really begin Saturday as soon as the temperatures rise and the gusts subside.
“It was just going to be, ‘Kind of try to hang on and make sure that you don’t take yourself out of the golf tournament,’ ” Rickie Fowler, one of four tied for the lead at 4 under par, said Friday.
Thomas Pieters, another of those leaders, said, “It’s been two long days. Although I like playing in this kind of wind, it’s just really tiring at night. You just kind of pass out when you get home.”
Weather experts are predicting warmth and calm for Augusta National on Saturday and Sunday. The leaderboard is forecasting something hot and fierce, with all kinds of possibilities.
Fowler and Sergio Garcia, each of whom has been ever so close to winning a major without having done so, share that top spot, having shot 5-under-par 67 and 69, respectively. Veteran major-less tour pro Charley Hoffman, the first-round leader, also is in that quartet, along with Pieters, who is playing in his first Masters.
But the other contenders comprise quite an array, featuring Fred Couples, 57, and Jon Rahm, 22, tied at 1 under. Between them, they have competed in 31 previous Masters — all by Couples. And one behind them are former Masters champions Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth. The latter seemed all but done after a dispiriting 75 Thursday.
“Significantly better — from yesterday at this point in time, drastically,” Spieth said after playing the back nine in 3 under for a 69 to finish at par for the week. “I’m very pleased with the second round of this Masters and we’re in a position now where we, I think, can go out there and win this thing. That right there just gives me chills.”
To this point, the wind has been providing the chills and goosebumps. The common strategy, Fowler said, has been “really just avoid making big mistakes. Trying to play to the big parts of greens, not trying to get too aggressive off tees, and, yeah, playing somewhat conservative at times to make sure you weren’t giving up shots or moving backwards.”
Fowler moved forward, starting on the par-5 second hole, when he sank a bunker shot for eagle. He was most pleased with the birdie putt he made from the fringe on the par-3 16th, right after his only bogey of the round. “As soon as it came out of the fringe, I knew it was moving. So luckily it hit the center of the hole,” he said.
The conditions and course were too much for defending champion Danny Willett, who missed the cut. Rory McIlroy had the misfortune of hitting his approach on No. 18 too well. The ball caromed off the flagstick and off the green, leading to a bogey 5. “I’m still within five of the lead going into the weekend with better conditions on the way,” he said. “I still feel like I’m right in this tournament.”
So is Couples, reprising his uncanny knack of contending here year after year. “I’m a competitor, so I like to believe in myself,” he said after shooting 70. “I’m not thinking [of] winning this tournament, but I’m thinking continuing to play well and see what happens.”
For now, it is time to exhale, and expect to see something special. Said Fowler, “I love looking up and seeing the big leaderboards. It’s a cool thing about Augusta, very old-school with non-electronic leaderboards out there. It’s a lot of fun to see your name up there.”