Crowded leaderboard at the Masters
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods made the largest logjam in Masters history look even bigger by making Augusta National sound as loud as ever.
Even on a Friday, in the rain.
Golf’s best worked their way to the top of the leaderboard at a Masters pregnant with possibilities. The first five-way tie for the lead after 36 holes at Augusta featured Francesco Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen.
All of them are major champions. Three have been No. 1 in the world.
Looming just as large was Woods, who atoned for missing two birdie chances inside 8 feet on the back nine with consecutive birdie putts from 30 feet that sent him to a 68 and left him one shot behind.
Woods was tied with Dustin Johnson, another major champion and world No. 1, along with Xander Schauffele and Masters newcomer Justin Harding of South Africa.
If that’s not enough, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas were very much in the mix.
Woods has gone 14 years since he last won the green jacket, 11 years since his last major and had five surgeries — four on his back, the other to rebuild his left knee.
But he feels he’s getting closer.
“The last three majors, I’ve been right there,” Woods said.
He briefly held the lead Sunday in the British Open. He chased Koepka to the finish line in the PGA Championship. And now he goes into the weekend one shot behind, the closest he has been to a lead going into the weekend at a major since the 2013 British Open at Muirfield.
But that’s not just anyone he’s trailing.
Molinari, the British Open champion who has shown he belongs among the elite in golf, had a 67 and was the first to reach 7-under 137. Day was right behind, coping with nagging soreness in his lower back with a 67 to match the Italian.
Koepka, the U.S. Open and PGA champion, began with a birdie to quickly take the lead, only to hit out of the pine straw, off a tree and into the creek to make double bogey on the par-5 second hole. He made two more bogeys before reaching the seventh hole, and then pulled himself together to salvage a 71.
Scott was the only player to reach 8 under with a 2-iron into 5 feet for eagle on the 15th, only to miss a 3-foot par putt on the 16th. It still added to a 68 for the Australian who won the Masters six years ago, and has gone three years since his last victory.
The only scare for Woods came on the 14th hole, when his drive went well left into the trees. The shot was pure, hooking around the pines to the green. On his quick walk to the fairway to see where the shot finished, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent rushing over to control the spectators behind Woods slipped on the rain-slickened grass and slid into Woods’ right leg.
Woods hopped out of the way, winced and repeatedly flexed his ankle, and then poured in another putt.
He didn’t show any trouble the rest of the way.
SWING, AND A MISS
In his 15 years at the Masters, in his two decades as a pro, Zach Johnson had never experienced a shot like this.
He had never hit one that short, either, but at least it didn’t count.
Johnson was going through his practice routine on the par-5 13th on Friday when the tip of his driver hit the golf ball. It went straight right into the tee marker, and then ricocheted to the left about 5 yards away.
Johnson was so stunned he blurted out, “Oh, (s—)” before turning to his group to figure out his next move. Matt Kuchar, Ian Poulter and the caddies replied in unison that the shot wasn’t intentional and there was no penalty.
“I thought I had done it all,” Johnson said. “But now I know I’ve done it all. … I don’t think I could do it again if I tried.”
That he wasn’t trying to hit the shot is what kept him from the penalty, a decision in place even before the new Rules of Golf this year. It’s covered under Rule 6.2b(5) on starting a hole: “If a teed ball falls off the tee or is knocked off the tee by the player before the player has made a stroke at it, it may be re-teed anywhere in the teeing area without penalty.”
Johnson said he knew the rule. His reaction was “only because I have never done that.”
The rest of the group apparently hadn’t either because they couldn’t stifle their laughter.
“Y’all can laugh,” Johnson said as he prepared to hit again. “That is embarrassing.”
Johnson drilled his tee shot and wound up making birdie on his way to a 73.
‘SO SAD TO GO’
Ian Woosnam played one final round as a competitor Friday, walking off the Augusta National course that yielded his only major championship nearly three decades earlier. Woosnam, 61, missed the cut after rounds of 76-80.
He said a bad back and struggles coping with the hilly terrain confirmed a decision he wrestled with a few years ago.
“This is the last one. So sad to go,” Woosnam said. “I determined it a couple of years ago and got a telling-off from my wife. She said, ‘Get out there and do it again.’ … But it doesn’t seem to get any better any time I come back.”
A moment later, Woosnam added, “Maybe if they will give me a cart or something like that, I’ll come back. … But I don’t think I’ll get that.”
His victory in 1991 marked the first time a world No. 1-ranked player won the Masters. What he remembered most vividly about that win was, “knowing that this is my opportunity and I took that opportunity. That was it.”
The Welshman also said he’d be back to play in the par-3 contest, “be part of it, get my green jacket on, float around and enjoy it, you know.”
The first order of business for Jordan Spieth at the Masters was to make sure he had a tee time on the weekend. He was tied for 63rd after opening with a 75, and it’s probably a good thing he didn’t bother inquiring caddie Michael Greller about the cut line early in the round.
“I thought it was 60 and ties … because I’ve never been anywhere near it,” said Spieth, who has never finished worse than a tie for 11th in his five Masters appearances. “Michael told me … it must have been on 15 or 16 and I’m like, ‘It’s 10 off the lead and 60, right?’ He goes, ‘No, it’s 50.’ Good thing I didn’t probably know that.”