12 April 2019: On another pleasant day inside the Augusta National Golf Club, the course continued to tease and test the golfers. It asked for accuracy off the tee and a measured approach before presenting some tricky tests on the undulating greens. Open champion Francesco Molinari made the most of his steely nerves to step in the void created by the vacillating efforts of the overnight leaders to carve out some space at the top of the leaderboard.
Jason Day played equally well for his for a similar effort on Friday to gain a share of the lead. After enduring some torment on Thursday due to an inflamed back, he played with far more comfort today. With the exception of a bogey at the 12th hole, Day had a fantastic round that yielded him a priceless 67. That was the same as the Italian, but Molinari was also bogey-free on the day.
With five birdies in six holes, Justin Harding emphasised the fact that he wasn’t here as a tourist. The South African played with plenty of purpose and belief to secure a share of the lead. But a two-putt from five feet on the 18th resulted in a bogey that dropped him back to six under with Dustin Johnson.
Harding ran a sequence of nine pars but he bled a stroke at the par-4 tenth hole.
But after a brilliant birdie putt from 24 feet on the 12th hole, Harding seemed unstoppable. He climbed the green in two on the 13th and two-putted for another birdie at the 13th hole. The putter stayed hot as he collected another stroke with a birdie from 18 feet on the 14th hole.
He was back on the green in two on the par-5 15th hole. With around 75 feet to the flag, Harding read the line to perfection, taking two for a fourth straight birdie. A good par-save despite overshooting the green on 16th showed he was operating with laser focus. The 33-year-old picked up another stroke at the par-4 17th, steering his approach the 164 yards he needed to the cup. Harding moved to seven under there tapping in from just two feet to cap a spectacular round in his debut at the Masters.
Cut: 61 professionals and four amateurs at 3-over 147 from a field of 81 professionals and six amateursCut Rules: After 36 holes, the low 50 and ties and those within 10 strokes of the lead play the final two rounds
Molinari kept it clean and simple. He started the day with a birdie at the third hole. Just ahead of the turn, he collected strokes at the 8th and 9th. And two more birdies on the back nine – 12 & 15 – secured a share of the lead.
“Yeah, obviously it was a very good day for me. Started playing well from the beginning. Made a couple nice putts towards the end of the back nine. Yeah, didn’t really get in trouble at any point. Just played solid,” agreed Molinari.
“Really happy the way I played and the way we managed the strategy with my caddie. But yeah, obviously still a long, long way to go, so let’s see what we’ll be able to do on the weekend.”
Brooks Koepka climbed to seven under with a birdie at the first before slipping into a phase of random chaos. A double bogey at the second was addressed by a birdie at the third, but bogeys at the fourth and sixth dropped him four under, two worse than where he started the day.
In the end, though Koepka showed the resilience that makes him such an established major champion. He ground out a 71 with some solid golf on the back nine, with the cherry placed at the 18th with a neatly read birdie putt. At 7-under he is still in the share of a lead and after a day like that, he will perhaps take that as a good sign heading into a promising weekend.
Dustin Johnson finished with a 70, playing some clean golf through the day. The spotless card on Friday helped Johnson settle just one behind the two leaders. Like Molinari, Johnson also kept a clean sheet on Friday. Playing in the same group as Day and Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau struggled all day, both his irons and putter letting him down repeatedly as he fumbled his lines for a disappointing 75. At 3-under through 36 holes, DeChambeau slipped outside the top ten.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat was the best placed Asian golfer, following through his 69 on Thursday with a grinding 72 that contained an even number of bogeys and birdies – three of them. The young Thai golfer showed plenty of grit to return home with an even card, with the wind affording the course some extra teeth.
“I’m happy with the result and even par on this golf course is not easy at all,” explained Kiradech. “I hit my irons quite well, quite sharp today. But a lot of chance I missed the putts on the greens. I missed the speed I expect, I mean, it’s really difficult to change my mindset. I always think these greens are like fast and quick, but after the rain picked up a couple days it slowed the greens down a little bit. So the speed I had to adjust afterwards.”
Ian Poulter remained a factor with a determined 71 helping the Englishman stay in touching distance for a second straight day. He is just two back from the leaders.
PGA TOUR Notes
- The second-round leader/co-leader has gone on to win the Masters Tournament 32 times in the previous 82 events. Four of the last five winners have held at least a share of the 36-hole lead: Patrick Reed (2018), Sergio Garcia (2017), Jordan Spieth (2015), Bubba Watson (2014). Danny Willett (2016) sat T8 through 36 holes
- Last Masters champion not inside the top 10 on the leaderboard after 36 holes: Charl Schwartzel (T12/2011). Prior to that: Jack Nicklaus (T17/1986)
- Through 23 stroke play events on the PGA TOUR this season, 12 second-round leaders/co-leaders have gone on to win, most recently Paul Casey/Valspar Championship
- Five players tied for the 36-hole lead is a tournament record (4/1973, 2017)
- Last time five or more players tied for lead after any round on TOUR (6/2018 THE PLAYERS Championship)