McIlroy, Spieth share clubhouse lead as Masters toughens up

Jordan Spieth of the United States plays a shot on the 11th hole during the second round of the 2018 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2018 in Augusta, Georgia

Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Rory McIlroy, chasing a Masters victory to complete a career Grand Slam, fired a 1-under par 71 Friday to share the clubhouse lead in the second round at Augusta National.

On a day when star attraction Tiger Woods stumbled to an opening bogey and a double bogey at the par-4 fifth and struggled to make pars, McIlroy was among the few sub-par players at the famed 7,435-yard layout.

The four-time major winner from Northern Ireland stood on 4-under 140 after 36 holes after a day when confusing winds and Augusta National’s trademark lightning-fast, undulating greens took a toll on the field.

“It’s so tricky,” McIlroy said. “The wind should be south-southwest today but every hole you get on it’s coming from a different direction.

“You have to wait for it to come from the direction it should be coming from. You have to trust where it is. The wind swirls in these big tall trees.”

American Patrick Reed was 7-under after eight holes with Australian Marc Leishman  5-under through 10 and American Charley Hoffman on 5-under after eight. They were the only players on the course ahead of McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, the first-round leader who stumbled to a 74.

“It was tough,” said Rickie Fowler, who fired a 72 to match fellow American Tony Finau on 142. “We’ve had tough pins and a little windier conditions.”

Seventh-ranked McIlroy, in his fourth try at completing a career Grand Slam at the Masters, opened with a three-putt bogey, but made a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-5 second and four-foot birdie putt at the par-4 third.

McIlroy, 28, missed from six and seven feet for bogeys at the par-3 fourth and sixth holes but responded on the back nine with a seven-foot birdie putt at the par-5 13th and a 27-footer for birdie at the par-4 14th.

McIlroy missed a 15-foot birdie putt at 17 and an 11-footer at 18 that left him flipping his club in frustration at the finish.

“I feel like I left a couple out there on 17 and 18,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I could have shot something in the 60s but I’m pretty pleased with how I played.”

Spieth opened with a double bogey and made bogey at the second, each time finding the woods with his first two shots and only reaching the front of the green in three.

“I just hit two really bad drives off my first two holes,” Spieth said. “Other than that I played some pretty solid golf today. Pretty good fightback on the back nine.”

After another bogey at seven, Spieth birdied the par-5 13th and 15th holes to match McIlroy heading into a weekend with winds and cooler conditions expected, along with rain on Saturday.

“With what tomorrow looks like forecast-wise, it looks like just grinding out par on the weekend out here,” Spieth said. “If we have softer conditions it could be scoreable but the winds are also supposed to be higher.”

– Tiger’s big shots for par –

Woods’s approach at the first rolled off the green and he missed an 18-foot par putt. After an 11-foot par save at the fourth, Woods went over the green and into dense brush on his way to a double bogey at five. Even a 15-foot par save at nine couldn’t ensure him a weekend spot at 4-over for the event.

Woods, a four-time Masters champion making his return to major competition following spinal fusion and two top-five showings in tuneup events, has been adored by crowds, spectators standing 10-deep for a glimpse of the 14-time major winner in devotion not seen since his dominating “Tigermania” days.

While his last major title came at the 2008 US Open, fans held hope for a weekend fightback even though he has never won a major when not leading after 54 holes.

– Garcia, ‘Lefty’ eye cut –

Rival Phil Mickelson was even worse. The 47-year-old US left-hander, a three-time Masters winner, fired a 79 to match his worst round in 26 Augusta starts. At 5-over he was near the cut line.

Spain’s Sergio Garcia, among the late starters, will likely miss the cut after an opening 81, the worst-ever round for a Masters defending champion.

Garcia would be only the 10th defending champion to miss the Masters cut, the second in a row after Danny Willett last year.