The one definite following the conclusion of the second round of the Masters is that they’ll be no back-to-back champion in 2017, as Danny Willett missed the cut.
The hero of 2016 has endured a miserable run of form since picking up the green jacket 12 months ago, and despite showing signs that a return to Augusta might have banished some demons in an opening 72, an second round 78 – which started off with a quadruple-bogey eight at the first hole – saw the Yorkshireman consigned to having to wait around for another 48 hours in order to take part in the ceremony to anoint a new champion on Sunday night.
A total of 53 players made it through to the final two rounds, with the cut falling at six over par, 10 shots behind the leaders on four under. Among other ‘big names’ to miss out include reigning Open champion Henrik Stenson and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, while Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, who were both tipped by many to make a strong showing in their first Masters’ appearances, finished 8 and 14 over par respectively to join the 40 players who failed to make the weekend’s play.
At the other end of the leaderboard, there is a four-way tie at the top, with first round leader Charley Hoffman slipping back into the pack following a second round 75, which was fully 10 shots worse than his opening effort. He is joined by Sergio Garcia (69), Thomas Pieters (68) and Rickie Fowler (67), while William McGirt added a second round 73 to his opening 69 to stay in the hunt at two under.
Just one shot further back, and tied for sixth, is 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples, who fired six birdies in a second round 70 that took him alongside Justin Rose, Ryan Moore and Spain’s new sensation John Rahm. Couples has enjoyed more top 20 finishes in the Masters in recent years than any other player, and the 57 year old looks set to do himself justice again if his stamina holds out over the weekend.
Lurking just four shots off the pace is 2015 champion Jordan Spieth, who put himself back in the mix with an impressive three-under-par 69, while he’s joined at level par by two other past winners in 46-year-old Phil Mickelson, who is bidding to become the oldest ever Masters winner, and 2013 champion Adam Scott. Having started the day at one under par, Mickelson caught fire around the turn as he got to three under par for the championship. Four bogies in his final eight holes meant he dropped back to level, but the American is poised to make a run in conditions he believe will be ideal for scoring.
“It was a hard-fought day, unfortunately I let a really good round slip away at the end,” he said. “I didn’t putt as well as I have been putting, but I expect the greens to be soft over the weekend and I expect us to be able to get after them and make birdies and eagles.”
Another man looking for a fast start on Saturday will be Rory McIlroy, who bogeyed the 18th hole on Friday to sign for a one-over-par 73 and lie five shots off the lead, while Lee Westwood’s hopes of ending his barren run in the majors seems less likely to happen here after he added a 77 to his opening 70 to start the weekend seven shots off the pace.