AUGUSTA, Ga. – If it’s easier to get a job if you already have one, then perhaps it follows that it’s easier to win a major if you already have one. Because the leaders at the 83rd Masters Tournament are the guys who had already assured themselves a piece of major-championship immortality even before they got here.
“It must have happened at some point, but this is really stacked,” Adam Scott said as he looked at the leaderboard. “I think it’s going to be an incredible weekend.”
Scott, the 2013 Masters winner, hit a 2-iron to within four feet for eagle at the par-5 15th hole on the way to a 68 to reach 7 under. He’s tied with countryman Jason Day (67), who counts the 2015 PGA Championship among 12 PGA TOUR victories. And Francesco Molinari (67), who in the last 12 months has won four times around the world, including The Open Championship.
Then there’s Brooks Koepka, who had won three of the last seven majors coming into this week and salvaged a 1-under 71 after some shaky moments on the front nine. Those included a double-bogey at the par-5 second hole after winding up in the creek left of the fairway.
“I don’t know if it’s my attitude,” Koepka said, when asked about turning into something of a specialist in the majors. “I just think I know I can beat a lot of people mentally.”
Oh, and don’t forget Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open Championship winner who lost to Bubba Watson in a playoff at the 2012 Masters. Oosthuizen, the sweet-swinging South African, is still looking for his first win in America but could be on the verge of exactly that after he shot a late-afternoon, rain-interrupted 66 to become the fifth to join the group at 7 under.
There’s never been more than a four-way tie for the lead halfway through the Masters.
“It is really an incredible leaderboard,” Scott said. “It’s exciting to be a part of.”
Then again, maybe the winner is lurking somewhere behind them. Through 23 stroke-play events this season, only 12 second-round leaders/co-leaders have gone on to win. Paul Casey was the most recent at the Valspar Championship. It’s happened 32 times in 82 Masters, including four of the last five. (Danny Willett, tied for eighth through the 36 holes in 2016, was the exception.)
Just below the fivesome at the top is 14-time major winner Tiger Woods, who shook off an inadvertent clip on the ankle by a mud-sliding security guard on the 14th hole on the way to a 68 and a 6-under total going into the weekend. Dustin Johnson, the 20-time TOUR winner who captured his first and only major at the 2016 U.S. Open, shot 70 and was also 6 under.
Then came two players who in fact don’t have a major to their names: Xander Schauffele (65), the 2017 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, and South African Justin Harding (69), who is making his first Masters start and learned how to play Augusta National partly from watch it on TV, and partly from talking to countryman Ernie Els at the Valero Texas Open last week.
Like Woods and Johnson, Schauffele and Harding are just one back, but this might be a tough week to break through. The top nine players have combined to win 22 majors, two FedExCups (both by Woods), and four PLAYERS Championships (Scott, Day, Woods twice).
Go a little further down the board and you find Phil Mickelson, five-time major winner including three Masters titles, who is still in the mix after a 73 left him at 4 under and only three off the lead. He was playing his 100th competitive round at the Masters on Friday.
“I expected to be a little better, to be honest,” said Mickelson, who hit just seven of 14 fairways, “but there’s nothing better than having a chance going into the weekend at the Masters.”
What will separate the logjam of superstars at the top? It could be a good break, Scott said, or two or three really good swings at the right time. And it could be complicated by the weather, as the Saturday forecast calls for intermittent thunderstorms. Sunday could be far worse.
“Well, this is a golf tournament that you never want to miss,” said Augusta native Charles Howell III, who shot a second-round 67 to get to 4 under, just three back. “However, it’s a golf tournament that if I do miss I watch every shot on television.”
With a leaderboard like this, that’s not bad advice.