Even by the eventful standards of Tiger Woods, what we saw on Friday in the evening gloaming at the 83rd Masters was positively stunning.
The most inopportune of weather delays, even an unwitting assault by a marshall – the 14-time major champion took it all in his imperious stride and stuck three birdies on his card to take his place on a crowded halfway leaderboard at Augusta National.
At the end of another fascinating round at the season’s first major, there were still five players ahead of Woods, and all of them proven Grand Slam winners as the quintet all ended up on the same seven under par mark.
Even by the standards of Tiger Woods, what we saw on Friday at the Masters was stunning
Woods is now just one shot behind and with momentum after he carded a thrilling 68
But Woods is now just one shot behind and with momentum after he carded a thrilling 68 to cast an ominous shadow.
The formidable group ahead is led by Open Champion Frankie Molinari and reigning US Open and PGA Champion Brooks Koepka. Alongside them are former PGA Champion Jason Day, his fellow Australian and 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott and South African Louis Oosthuizen, winner of the 2010 Open and runner-up in the Masters seven years ago.
Woods had to call upon his considerable reserves of character and experience. The 43 year old was on the charge after holing from fully 40ft at the 9th and registering the only birdie all day at the 11th, when the weather siren sounded for what proved a 30 minute delay.
Woods had to call upon his considerable reserves of character and experience on Friday
Woods had struck his tee shot to the 12th to just 8ft and the crowd had gone wild. But the life had been sucked from the scene when he returned and he missed the putt. Neither did he birdie the par five 13th.
Then came the 14th, where he played a miraculous approach from the trees to 20ft, only for a marshall, in trying to keep the crowd back, to slide in the sodden underfoot conditions and crash into Woods.
Tiger limped away and was clearly grimacing, shaking his ankle to try to ease the pain. Woods composed himself on the walk to the green and holed the putt. Just as good was the birdie at the 15th, where he holed from 20ft. By now, the crowd had returned and the roar was deafening as Woods unleashed a proper uppercut salute.
Woods endured a brief scare on Friday when a security guard accidentally tripped him up
The security guard tripped him up after trying to get in between Woods and the patrons
Tiger actually had a chance to be tied for the lead but missed eminently holeable putts on the final two greens. Still, he had to be happy with his day’s work. He’s right where he loves to be, and bang in contention to win his fifth Masters this weekend but what would be his first since 2005.
Others in contention include world No 2 Dustin Johnson on six under and Englishman Ian Poulter on five under.
As for Molinari, the story is well told now of the day he visited Augusta National for the first time and put on the white boiler suit to caddy for his brother Eduardo at the 2006 Masters.
This weekend, it is the green jacket itself he is seeking to wear following a blistering, bogey-free 67 on Friday. As if he hasn’t composed enough fairytales over the last 12 months….
Francesco Molinari went about his march on day two of the Masters at Augusta
Back in 2006, Eduardo Molinari got to play with the defending Masters champion – who just happened to be Tiger Woods. ‘It was all the motivation I needed to work harder and get better at this game,’ acknowledged Francesco. ‘I wanted to play, and now when I look back you have to say it has been a cool journey.’
Yes, you could say that. What a player the younger Molinari has become. The pattern of golfers who come from nowhere to achieve the year of their lives and then struggle for an encore has been a familiar one for as long as the professional game has been played. Clearly, their well-packed ranks are not about to contain the name of the 36 year old from Turin.
The Open Champion, BMW PGA Champion and Ryder Cup history maker from last season has already got a notable win to his name this year with his victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month, following a stunning final round 64.
Could he take that form into the season’s first major, a tournament where his decidedly modest record showed nothing better than a tied 19th finish in seven previous appearances? Well, what do you think?
The Open Champion, BMW PGA Champion and Ryder Cup history maker was in solid form
No fuss, no fanfare – in typical Molinari fashion, he made his move. ‘It was just a really good day all round,’ said Molinari, who revealed the stark difference as to why he now feels he can play Augusta.
‘My short game is so much better than it used to be, so I don’t have that sense of panic if I miss the greens,’ he added. ‘Of course, if you miss in the wrong spots you’ve got no chance, no matter how good your short game, but so far I’ve been good at avoiding those.’
Day was on the practice putting green on Thursday when he saw his young daughter Lucy approaching. He picked her up and felt his back give way. What followed was an anxious front nine in which he twice needed treatment. He’s still managing it, while living up fully to the old adage about ‘beware the injured golfer.’
Ian Poulter captured his Ryder Cup form and held his own at the top end of the leaderboard
‘As someone who’d already suffered a back injury this year I should have been more careful but it’s hard when you see your daughter smiling,’ said Day. ‘I had my chiropractor walking with me for a few holes and he helped out. It’s definitely a lot better now.’
Koepka recovered from a rough start to pick up two shots in the final four holes. For the first time in 215 par fives he’d played in majors, the 28 year old registered a double bogey – and as early as the second hole at that. But he shrugged it off to remain firmly in contention for his third major out of the last four played.
Elsewhere Rory McIlroy was another to lose momentum during the weather delay, having eagled the 8th. He finished with a round of 71 for level par. Tommy Fleetwood shot a second successive 71 to be five back.
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