AUGUSTA, Ga. – Moving day at Augusta National is here – and as stacked as this leaderboard is at the moment, it feels like the fireworks are just getting started.
All five players tied for the lead after two rounds at the 83rd Masters have won a major championship: Francesco Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Louis Oosthuizen and 2013 Masters champ Adam Scott. They’ve stared down the nerves before and wound up with the trophy.
Two more are just a stroke back, and one of them is named Tiger Woods. Dustin Johnson’s the other. And don’t count out the likes of Ian Poulter, just two back, or Phil Mickelson, who’s only three behind the pace.
What could be one of the most compelling finishes at Augusta National in years is heading to the weekend. Here are six storylines to keep an eye on:
Will he roar?
Tiger Woods hasn’t won the Masters since 2005. He hasn’t won a major since 2008. He’s won just once in five years. But he’s in position to win his fifth green jacket and 15th major after two solid rounds, just one shot out of the lead after rounds of 70-68. Since arriving at Augusta National last Sunday, he’s looked calm, collected and confident.
The Masters seems to bring out the best in leaderboards. A staggering collection of talent is displayed on the famous white leaderboards at Augusta National Golf Club. Francesco Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen – all major champions, all tied for the lead at 7 under. This is the first time in major championship history that five major winners are tied for the lead.
At 6 under are 14-time major champion Tiger Woods and 2016 U.S. Open winner Dustin Johnson. At 5 under are Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm. The operators of the manual leaderboards likely will be very busy during the third round.
The weather factor
Storms earlier this week softened the course. Play was delayed briefly in Friday’s second round. Scattered thunderstorms are in the forecast for Saturday, and Sunday looks like the worst day of all, as thunderstorms and strong winds are expected in the afternoon. The Masters already puts players on edge. Mother Nature could make it an even more arduous challenge.
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Does Justin Harding have a chance?
Can 33-year-old South African Justin Harding, a player making just his fifth PGA Tour start and first in the Masters, hang with the big names at Augusta National over the weekend?
He’s about to find out. Harding’s chops include a victory on the European Tour in the Qatar Masters, and two wins each on the Asian Tour and Sunshine Tour. All told he’s won five times the last 12 months.
But he’s never been tested like he will be this weekend, especially amidst the thick of a leaderboard that boasts seven major champions in the top eight.
You guessed it: Harding is the lone outlier.
After two straight rounds of 69, he’s one off the lead. All that’s ahead of him now is the biggest weekend of his golfing life.
“I’m probably going to sleep a little better now that I’m not leading,” Harding joked Friday.
Oldest major champion
Despite a 73 in the second round, Phil Mickelson is in contention to win his fourth green jacket. Only Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have won the Masters four times (Nicklaus a record six times). Lefty also could become the oldest major champion with a victory. He’s 48 years, 10 months old; Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA Championship at 48 years, 4 months.
Is there anyone outside the Top 10 who could make a run?
Jordan Spieth was supposed to be buried before last year’s final round, nine shots back of the lead. All he did was light up Augusta National for a sizzling 64, push winner Patrick Reed to the brink, and finish in solo third.
His ball-striking struggles being what they are this week, does Spieth still have a chance? He’s currently at 1 under after firing a 68 on Friday – seven better than his dreadful 75 on Thursday – and six off the lead. If Spieth warms the putter over the weekend, as he tends to do around here, another run at a green jacket isn’t entirely inconceivable.
As for a few others outside of the top 10 who still very much are in the hunt: Three-time champ Phil Mickelson is only three shots off the lead and Justin Thomas quietly worked his way up the leaderboard, shooting a 68 to move to four shots off the lead.
Contributing: Steve DiMeglio