Jason Day will take a one-shot lead into the third round at golf’s Masters Tournament, where Tiger Woods is three strokes back and 14-year-old Tianlang Guan is the youngest player to make the cut for weekend play in one of the sport’s four major championships.
Day is 6 under par through 36 holes after shooting yesterday’s best round, a 4-under-par 68 at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. The 2011 Masters runner-up is one shot ahead of fellow Australian Marc Leishman and 53-year-old American Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion.
While Woods remains the oddsmakers’ favorite to win, a pair of major winners and the U.S. PGA Tour’s 2012 FedEx Cup champion are two shots back. Angel Cabrera of Argentina, the 2009 Masters winner, birdied five of his final six holes yesterday to get to 4 under par with Americans Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open winner.
“The moment I start worrying about other players is the moment I start losing focus on what I need to do, and when I do that, I’ll start making bogeys,” said Day, who tees off today at 2:45 p.m. local time with Couples. “I’m very excited for the challenge over the next two days.”
Since 2000, the only two players who held at least a share of the second-round lead and went on to win the Masters were Mike Weir in 2003 and Trevor Immelman in 2008.
Woods, a four-time Masters champion seeking his first major title since 2008, heads to the weekend tied for seventh place at 3 under par after a bad break knocked him out of a share of the lead. He was in a four-way tie atop the leaderboard with six holes remaining when his third shot on the par-5 13th hole ricocheted off the flag stick and into the pond in front of the green, turning a potential birdie into a bogey.
“I felt I played really well and had a round that should have been in the 60s,” Woods said after a 1-under-par 71. “My score doesn’t quite indicate how well I played.”
Woods is in a group of seven players at 3 under and is scheduled to tee off today in a pairing with Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano at 1:45 p.m. Also at 3 under are Adam Scott of Australia, Jason Dufner of the U.S., K.J. Choi of South Korea and Englishmen David Lynn, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who is second in the Official World Golf Ranking to Woods, is among those at 2 under par after shooting rounds of 72 and 70. He closed the second round with three birdies over the final six holes and tees off today at 1:25 p.m. with Charl Schwartzel, who’s also 2 under.
Guan, the Chinese amateur who is the youngest player in a major golf championship in 148 years, made the cut at 4 over par even though he was penalized a stroke for slow play on his next-to-last hole yesterday. Day missed birdie chances on the final two holes that could have bumped the cut to 3 over and knocked out both Guan and defending champion Bubba Watson.
A total of 61 players qualified for the final two rounds by being within 10 shots of the lead. Guan has a 9:45 a.m. tee time, while Watson is scheduled to go off solo to begin the third round at 9:25 a.m.
Watson, who is also 4 over par, avoided becoming the first defending Masters champion to miss the cut since Weir in 2004. Players who missed the cut included Graeme McDowell, Webb Simpson, Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington and Hunter Mahan.
On a day where gusting winds, early-morning rain and challenging pin placements led 68 of 93 players to shoot par or higher in the second round, Day birdied four of the final nine holes to climb atop the leaderboard. He took the outright lead with a curling six-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th hole.
After tying for second behind Schwartzel at the Masters two years ago, Day in 2012 had to withdraw from the tournament because of an ankle injury, limping off the course eight holes into the second round.
“The injury was disappointing, but it’s really good to be back here and being on top of the leaderboard is a great honor,” said Day, who is seeking to become the first Australian to win the Masters. “I’m really looking forward to getting out there the next two days and playing well.”
Day is listed as the 6-1 second-favorite to win the Masters, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book. Woods remains the favorite with 9-4 odds.
Day’s playing partner today, Couples, is 5 under through 36 holes for the second year in a row. Couples last year started the third round with consecutive bogeys en route to a 75. He trailed by six shots entering the final round and closed with a 72 to tie for 12th.
“I would like to have another run,” said Couples, who was tied with Dufner at this point a year ago. “Last year, both Jason and I, we struggled right off the bat and we really were a non factor on Saturday and that was not really much fun. Hopefully (today) will be a little different and I’ll play well and have a shot at Sunday. That’s my goal.”
Like Woods, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia were among those who stumbled after sitting atop the leaderboard during the second round. Johnson was 7 under par before playing the final five holes in 6 over. He double-bogeyed the 15th and 18th in shooting a 76 that left him 1 under par for the tournament.
Garcia, after a first-round 66, also had a 76 yesterday that included three balls hit into water hazards over the final nine holes. He’s at 2 under heading to the weekend.
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson is 3 over par after a second-round 76 and is tied for 48th place. A day after saying he expected the course to be a “birdie-fest,” Mickelson had five bogeys and a double-bogey. Mickelson will tee off at 10:25 a.m. today.
“You’re never out on this tournament,” Mickelson said. “I’ve got a little bit of work to do, it doesn’t feel far off. If I can get a couple to fall and hit a few more good shots, I think that I have something in the mid 60s, which I will need to get back in it.”