AUGUSTA, Ga. – The first hole at Augusta National, Tea Olive, has been, well, no cup of tea for Patrick Reed. Prior to this year, Reed has played the opening hole 12 times, carding six bogeys, a double bogey and no birdies.
“It’s a hole I’ve always loved to hit driver on, but I’ve always gotten myself in trouble for it,” Reed said.
Reed’s wife, Justine, who used to caddie for her husband, had always told Reed to hit 3-wood on that hole.
“Finally I’ve listened to her,” said Reed, who has hit 3-wood both days so far this week. On Friday, he birdied the hole to jumpstart his second round of the Masters. Reed made birdies on the first three holes, a start that “couldn’t really have built my confidence any higher,” Reed said.
Reed added six more birdies during his round, including birdieing the same three-hole stretch that he did on Thursday, Nos. 13-15, and shot the round of the day, a 6-under 66, to move to 9 under and take a two-shot lead over Marc Leishman at the midway point of the 82nd Masters Tournament.
Before beginning his afternoon round on Friday, Reed watched much of the early-day coverage and saw how tough the course was playing in gusty winds and with some difficult hole locations.
Phil Mickelson equaled his worst career Masters score, a 79, to effectively end the 47-year-old’s chances of breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record for oldest Masters champion. Tiger Woods is also teeing off early Saturday after a second-round 75 that leaves him at 4 over, 13 shots back. Defending champion Sergio Garcia, a day after shooting 81, followed with a 78 to shoot 15 over and miss the cut by 10 shots.
So it wasn’t easy out there. Reed just made it look that way.
“I think it just kind of settled me down going to that first tee knowing I could play pretty conservative and get the putter going,” Reed said, “and for that, if you roll in a long putt here or there, you’re going to build some momentum.”
In four previous Masters starts, Reed had missed two cuts and only posted a best finish of T-22. But he’s performed like a different player through 36 holes, hitting 12 greens each day thanks to some improved iron play and displaying his usually stellar short game by making 22 one-putts.
In Round 2, Reed made three putts outside of 10 feet and birdied all four par-5s.
It was at a par 5 that Reed’s closest competitor, Leishman, delivered the shot of the tournament so far on Friday afternoon. After finding the far left side of the fairway at the 15th hole, Leishman navigated some tree trouble and stuck his second shot to a few feet. He made the short eagle to briefly take the lead at 7 under, where he would finish to earn himself a spot in Saturday’s final pairings with the leader, Reed.
“I mean I had to hook it around the trees there, it was a pretty tough pin,” Leishman said. “And I had actually been practicing that shot last week, so I thought I would give it a go and it came off perfectly.”
Leishman, who tied for fourth at the 2013 Masters, also began his round with three consecutive birdies.
But not everyone started so strong. Spieth quickly gave up his lead with double bogey on the first hole, after driving into the right trees, and bogey on the par-5 second, after hitting his tee ball into the left trees. Spieth went out in 4-over 40 but settled down on the back, added birdies at Nos. 13 and 15, and posted a 74 to remain in the hunt.
“I felt like I hit some really good shots on a lot of holes and just got kind of gusted by an opposite wind, or were one or two yards away from being phenomenal,” Spieth said. “So what’s the first couple holes on a Friday start mean? It doesn’t really mean much to me. It means let’s figure out what was wrong and fix it, but it’s not going to affect the outcome of this tournament off of those two holes. I’m still in a great position.”
Spieth shares fourth place with Rory McIlroy, who shot 71 to keep hopes of the first career Grand Slam completed at Augusta National alive. Rickie Fowler shot even par and sits T-8 at 2 under as he continues to chase his first major. Justin Rose’s 70 also has him at 2 under, a year after he lost in a playoff to Garcia. And Stenson continued to climb the leaderboard, his second-round 70 moving him to solo third at 5 under.
Several big names, including Leishman, also joined the fray on Friday. Bubba Watson fired a 69 to move to 2 under. Dustin Johnson posted a 68 that included no bogeys, and he shares sixth at 3 under with Justin Thomas, who made just one bogey and his six birdies, including three in a row at Nos. 13-15, to card 67.
“I’m happy to finally shoot a round in the 60s here,” said Thomas, winner of last summer’s PGA Championship.
Reed finished runner-up to Thomas at Quail Hollow last year. He also shared the 36-hole lead with Spieth at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Those experiences, along with Reed’s well-known heroics in U.S. team competition, give him confidence that he can handle anything.
“Everyone wants to win (majors), and if you don’t believe you can win them, then you probably shouldn’t be playing in them,” Reed said. “I believe that if I play the golf that I know how to play, that I can win majors.”
When Reed was at nearby Augusta State University, the golf team would play Augusta National with members. Only it was during the winter months and Augusta National was a completely different golf course than it is in early April.
“The ball just wasn’t traveling,” Reed said of one of those rounds he played while in college. “Fairways were softer, so the ball wasn’t running. The shortest club I hit into 11 was a hybrid. I mean, you just don’t see that.”
On Saturday, though, Augusta National will play closer to that than what it has the previous two days. Forecasts call for temperatures in the 60s, gusty winds and lots of rain. Reed says bring it on.
“I am from Texas,” said the Houston resident. “It blows 40 (mph) and rains every day it seems like. I’d say I like it when it’s challenging.”
And what a challenge it will be on Moving Day at the Masters.