AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jordan Spieth played the first two holes of his second round pretty much the exact same way I played them when I teed it up on Monday after the 2017 Masters in the media lottery round. Related: Jordan Spieth no longer leads the 2018 Masters. He shot a 2-over 74 to fall into a tie for fourth with Rory McIlroy after 36 holes.
Spieth came into Friday’s round at 6 under with a two-stroke lead before making a double and a bogey on the first two holes. He blew his tee shot on No. 1 way out to the right and couldn’t advance it to the green until his fourth shot (been there!). Then, he pulled his tee shot on No. 2 to the far left and basically played the entire hole down the left-hand corridor before making bogey. Poof, the lead was gone.
But I saw something in his walk from the first green to the second tee that confirmed what I already believe to be true about Spieth: Nobody in golf is better at stepping outside of the micro and seeing the bigger picture. Nobody is better at understanding the rhythms of 72-hole events.
“I imagine there will be plenty of times, if not from … early on [Friday] that I don’t lead this tournament anymore,” Spieth said on Thursday. “Just things happen in this sport, and I’m going to try and control what I can control, and that’s about it.”
This thought proved prescient. I considered it as he walked from No. 1 to No. 2 looking like he didn’t have a care in the world. Caddie Michael Greller walked far ahead of him, and surely Spieth’s mind was churning. But he still high-fived a young patron and looked pensive, if not peaceful. I had no doubt that he would string together something feisty coming home because that’s what Jordan Spieth does at the Masters.
“I’ve taken a lot of punches on this golf course, and in tournaments in general,” said Spieth. “I told Michael, ‘Look, when this course plays tough, I’m good for a double here or some bogeys there. Let’s make these the only ones.’ He was really good at saying, ‘Man, you always take punches out here and come back stronger.’ That’s kind of what he was saying.”
That is the least surprising conversation I’ve heard anyone have all week. Spieth’s lead evaporated in 30 minutes on the course, but he weathered the storm as he mentally prepared himself to have to do.
After going out in 40 (!), Spieth came home in 34 for a 2-over 74, which leaves him just five off Patrick Reed’s 9-under lead. Spieth made birdies at Nos. 13 and 15 (as one should) and didn’t make a bogey past No. 7. If Thursday’s 66 was Spieth at his best, Friday’s 74 was him at his most quintessential.
“What’s the first couple holes on a Friday start mean?” Spieth asked in his presser before delivering an answer. “It doesn’t really mean much to me. It means let’s figure out what was wrong and fix it, but it’s not going to affect the outcome of this tournament off of those two holes. I’m still in a great position.”
He knew it on that walk to No. 2. He knew it during the 34 coming home. He knows it now. The tournament may no longer run through Spieth, but you can bet that when the leaders look at the board on Saturday and Sunday, his is the name they’ll look for first.
Here are nine more thoughts on Round 2.
1. Marc Leishman’s shot of the tournament: Leishman finds himself in second after two rounds after a 7-under 137 start, and he hit the shot of the tournament so far on Friday. After he slightly pulled a drive off to the left on the par-5 15th, Leishman bent his second around some trees, caught the far right of the green and spun it all the way to the left side by the pin — 6 feet for eagle. Incredible.
2. Augusta fights back: I walked early on Friday, and nobody was scoring. I mean nobody (OK, Reed was scoring, but nobody else). Rory McIlroy said on Thursday he thought Augusta National left the SubAir on “all night” and that the course was playing five shots tougher than it did last week when he played a few practice rounds. The scoring average reflected that. Friday’s Round 2 average was just over 74.5, which means Reed’s 66 was nine (!) better than the field.
3. Major champs chasing: After Reed at the top of the leaderboard and Leishman just behind him, we have eight (!) former major winners in the top 10 (McIlroy, Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose). However, only one of those (Stenson) is within four strokes of the lead, which is where 17 of the last 19 champs have come from after 36 holes.
4. Big dogs only, please: Look at the five best scores on Friday. A who’s who of ball-striking fiends. That’s what Augusta produces. Reed (66) and Leishman (67) are out in front, but after dicey starts on Thursday, Dustin Johnson (68), Jon Rahm (68) and Justin Thomas (67) lit it up late on Friday. They give the second half of the first page of the leaderboard all the juice it needs.
5. Rahm, the madman: Speaking of Rahm, I followed his group for a while this morning because they were not on featured coverage. I saw him hit a bad bunker shot on No. 4 before beating his wedge against the sand and tossing it against bag, where it ricocheted off toward the woods off to the right. Before going to pick it up, he kicked his bag for good measure. Then he shot 68. He terrifies me in every way.
6. Phil Mickelson’s struggles: Maybe we should have seen this coming. Lefty has just one top 20 here in the last five years. And while he’s been great in general this year, he’s certainly not what he used to be at Augusta National. Still, after a 70 in Round 1, I would not have expected a 79 in Round 2. He barely made the cut and is 14 back of the lead.
“It’s disappointing,” said Mickelson. “There’s a fine line between wanting it so bad and then also letting it kind of happen. As you get older you feel a little bit more pressure each one because you don’t feel as though you have unlimited number of events. So given how well I was playing heading into this, I certainly put a lot of pressure on myself to perform this week and get it because I know the opportunities here are lessening. Especially given as well as I’ve been playing, I thought this was a great year, a great opportunity.”
7. Doug Ghim makes cut: Not only did U.S. Amateur runner-up Ghim make two eagles in the first two rounds and hit the stick on No. 12, he also made the cut at 4 over and will be guaranteed low amateur status as none of the other five ams in the field made it to the weekend. “I’m assuming that not every Tour event feels quite this nerve-wracking,” said Ghim. “I take a lot of confidence from the way that I held myself. I felt like if anything, my attitude was really good these first two days. I could have very easily shot 78 yesterday, very easily could have shot 80 today, and kind of stuck with it.”
8. Fred Couples makes the cut: Not only did the 58-year-old former champ make it, but he did so in what could end up being his last Masters. He only trails Jack Nicklaus in terms of cuts made, which is just incredible. He has almost as many cuts as I have trips around the sun.
9. Weather affecting the weekend: Saturday could be a circus in Augusta. Rain and wind are expected for most of the day, so it could be a long, slogging affair that might end with 30 or more holes for the leaders on Sunday. Of the guys at the top of the leaderboard, I think bad weather favors Leishman, Spieth and Fowler the most. Guys like McIlroy, Johnson and Thomas would probably rather play all 36 on Sunday.