With the course as likely to yield soul-destroying runs of bogies as birdies, leaderboards at Augusta National have a great way of remaining fluid thoughout the day, with all manner of charges and retreats, tragedies and miracles taking place all over the course, often simultaneously. Friday at the 2011 tournament was no different, though one name, that of Rory McIlroy, remained a constant at the summit (I’m ignoring KJ’s brief cameo, I know), a sort of pole-star below which other names rose and fell.
McIlroy’s 69 was enough to maintain a two-shot lead over the rest of the field and, on paper at least, the perfect follow-up to his opening 65. His short-game has yet to be severely tested, though, and the number of putts that he missed from within ten feet yesterday suggests that when his long-game finally fails him, as it surely must at some point over the weekend, his ability to recover convincingly is very much in doubt.
As stellar as McIlroy’s play over the course of the second day was, he was largely eclipsed by his playing partners, Jason Day and PR creation Rickie Fowler. The Australian, playing in only his first Masters, managed to card the lowest round of the tournament so far, a bogey-free 64 to take him to eight-under, making him the Northerner’s nearest challenger heading into the weekend. Fowler’s topsy-turvy 69 saw him climb comfortably into the top-ten.
So, Day and McIlroy will join each other in Saturday’s final group. Both will be hoping to exorcise the demons of 2010’s final major championhip, where they wilted in the face of Whistling Straits’ hazard fetishism.
Though many are predicting some sort of symbolic changing of the guard this weekend, the green jacket could yet find its way onto the shoulders of a player from the older generation. Tiger Woods is only three back, tied on seven-under with KJ Choi, whose hybrid experiment seems to be going swimmingly. Geoff Ogilvy, the very epitome of a cool customer, lies only one shot further adrift, having carded a second straight 69 in spite of a double-bogey seven on the (relatively) easy second.
This, I’m sure you’ll agree, has the potential to be a classic.
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)