The Masters: Watson stands out from the crowd

2012 champion three clear of the field

As shots continued to dribble away from all sides around Augusta National 2012 champion Bubba Watson took control after a second-round 68 to lead by three.

On day one Watson was the only player not to drop a shot, on Friday he collected five birdies on the trot from the 12th before finishing his back nine, as he did the front, with a bogey.

The highlight of the round was a curling, downhill putt from distance at the 14th before almost holing his tee shot two holes later. The par 5s were merely mid-iron approaches and some tidying up.

Afterwards the 35-year-old, who won his first tournament since his Masters heroics at Riviera in February, admitted that the pressure of not defending had helped with his preparations.

“This year I’m trying to get the jacket back,” said Watson. “You want that feeling again, you want that back. You are not the main man, the champions’ dinner is not about you. Somehow I was lost in the crowd a little so I could go about my practice rounds without much attention.”

Defending champion Adam Scott made a poor start with three dropped shots in the first five holes but slowly found his stride and came home in 33 to finish where he started at three under.

Scott’s countryman John Senden is second on his own after matching Watson’s 68 despite two early bogeys. One behind is Swede Jonas Blixt, American soon-to-be superstar Jordan Spieth and Thomas Bjorn who had been 51 over in his 10 previous starts here.

The Dane, who at 43 is playing some of his best golf in the past 12 months, finished brilliantly with four birdies from the 14th and, in total, accumulated eight.

“It was a good day. I played well all the way through and felt comfortable on the golf course. I hit two great shots into 13 and walked off with a par and after that decided I needed to be more aggressive.”

"This year I’m trying to get the jacket back. You want that feeling again, you want that back" – Bubba Watson
Down on two under are the American trio of in-form Jimmy Walker, Jim Furyk and who else but Fred Couples.

Part of the Masters tradition is for the 54-year-old to be on the first page of the leaderboard after two days and he didn’t let anyone down with a second consecutive 71.

Stephen Gallacher, on his debut, and Jamie Donaldson were the other Europeans to finish in red figures while Lee Westwood got back to level with a 71.

Former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, who lost a play-off to Watson in 2012, had shared the lead after an eagle at the 13th but then made an eight at the next par 5 after chipping into the water.

Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy had all sorts of problems and eventually had to hole a four-foot par putt at the last to be sure of playing at the weekend.

McIlroy’s day took a turn for the worse at the short 4th when his tee shot was double-crossed, almost took out Scott on the 5th tee, and finished beside a perimeter fence. He then went back to the tee to rescue a five, and birdied the next, but then stumbled badly on the back nine.

From the middle of the fairway he flew the 10th green en route to a six and then hit a sprinkler head with his approach to the 13th, which then rebounded into the shrubbery. Another six ensued and the two-time Major winner eventually, after bruising the lip of half a dozen holes, signed for a 75 and 148 aggregate.

At the really wrong end of things Phil Mickelson missed his first cut since 1997, thanks mainly to a six at the short 12th, which was due to three visits to sand and, despite a late rally, he came up one shot shy.

And he was in good company with Luke Donald (70), Sergio Garcia (75), Ernie Els (74), Charl Schwartzel (76) and Victor Dubuisson (75) also having blank weekends.

Sheffield amateur Matt Fitzpatrick also just missed by one but his 73, alongside Scott and Jason Dufner, was a fine effort. The youngster made a three at the 17th and narrowly missed for another at the last. Australian Oliver Goss is assured now of the amateur prize and a visit to the Butler Cabin on Sunday night after posting a three-over total.

There was better news for Darren Clarke and Sandy Lyle who both birdied the last to make it on the number while Justin Rose and Ian Poulter both firing impressive 70s to make some progress after opening 76s. 

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