After a keenly-contested and fascinating opening day, the Masters kicked into a higher gear yesterday. There was certainly a great deal more at stake, with the cut mark set at five-over and half the field set to exit the tournament before the weekend.
At the other end of the spectrum, the leadership changed hands several times during the day, with the top seven performers separated by a meagre six shots.
Below, we’ll analyse the day’s events in closer detail, while asking which players are likely to contend for the coveted green jacket deep into Sunday.
At the Top of the Leaderboard – Who’s Out in Front?
Going into day two, 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth enjoyed a two-shot lead, having shot an impressive, six-under par 66. He struggled manfully in the second round, however, particularly along the front nine as he opened with two sixes and dropped three shots to fall back into the pack.
He then dropped another shot at the seventh and failed to make a single birdie on the front nine, which was the first time Spieth had suffered this fate during his Masters career. The American finally reversed this trend on the 13th, while a further birdie on the 15th enabled him to shoot a two-over 74 to remain in contention on four-under par.
This enabled Spieth’s compatriot Patrick Reed to claim the lead at the end of day two, as he followed up his first round score of 69 with a six-under par 66. The world number 24 fired a total of nine birdies in almost faultless round of golf, finishing nine-under overall and two shots clear of Australian Mark Leishman in second place.
Leishman fired a superb 67 to cement his consistent performance on day one, while 42-year old Henrik Stenson also rolled back the years by recording five birdies in a respectable, two-under par 70. This left Stenson five-under overall, and in third place on a leaderboard that is beginning to take shape.
Who is Gathering Behind the Leaders?
Along with the aforementioned Spieth, there’s a group of four or five pre-tournament favourites gathering behind the leaders. At the head of this queue is the three-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who followed up his round of 69 on day one with a one-under 70.
The Ulsterman may well have mixed feelings, however, as while he made consecutive birdies on each nine (four overall) he also saw relatively easy birdie putts on the last two greens slip by. This left the world number seven on four-under overall and in touch with the leaders, but questioning what might have been had he putted consistently.
As for world number one Dustin Johnson, he fared slightly better after an exceptionally difficult opening day. The American, who is bidding to become the first number one to win at Augusta since Tiger Woods in 2002, carded an eagle and three birdies in total to score a 68. This left the 2016 U.S. Open winner three-under overall, and six shots off the lead.
As for the man who would be world number one, Justin Thomas landed six birdies and managed to scrape par at the last with a superbly judged chip onto the green. This enabled them him to join Johnson on three-under and maintain his dream of becoming the world’s best player.
With two-time runner-up Justin Rose, Bubba Watson and the fancied Rickie Fowler also two-under overall, there are clearly a handful of top players whose Masters dream remains alive for now.
Making the Cut – Woods and Mickelson Remain in Contention
With the cut mark set at five-over, there were a few Masters veterans facing the prospect of exiting the tournament on day two. This number included four-time green jacket winner Tiger Woods, who had enjoyed an excellent back nine on day one to card a score of 73 (one-over par).
Woods continued to struggle on the front nine on day two, however, with his approach play leaving a great deal to be desired. Fortunately for Woods, he continued to hover slightly above the cut mark throughout the round, eventually recording a three-over 75 to finish four-over par overall and continue his participation.
Phil Mickelson also just about managed to make the cut, finishing five over after two rounds to cement his place in the final two rounds. He joins Ian Poulter (five-over), Fred Couples (two-over) and the 2000 Masters winner Vijay Singh in making the cut, although none of these players are likely to compete for the green jacket.
Conversely, defending champion Sergio Garcia exited the tournament after shooting a disappointing 15-over across the two rounds, thanks largely to his 13-shot nightmare at the 15th on day one.
What can we Expect Going Forward?
In total, 17 players are under par going into Saturday’s play, with one of these the most likely to emerge victorious. After all, 19 of the past 20 Masters winners have been under par and in the top 10 at the 36-hole stage, with only South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel (who was tied 12th in 2011) having come from further back to win.
Things may be about to change on day three, however, with the initial weather forecasts predicting that the Augusta National will be besieged by heavy rain and blustery winds. This could blow an already keenly-contested competition wide open, while potentially enabling those further back in the field to climb the leaderboard.
While such conditions will not help anyone, there are some players who tend to fare better than others in the wind and the rain. Players such as Spieth, McIlory and Johnson statistically perform better than average on links courses, for example, and while Augusta National does not fit this description it is about to experience the type of weather conditions that often engulf coastal courses.
This is not an exact science, of course, and one thing we know for sure is that the worsening weather conditions will create an even more open and unpredictable tournament. These conditions may also play into the hands of the three tournament favourites, who will each be confident of winning the prestigious green jacket.