Rose clings to 1-shot Masters lead as Spieth, Thomas lurk

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Justin Rose, of England, hits out of a bunker on the seventh hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament on Friday, April 9, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Justin Rose apparently didn’t get the memo that Augusta National was a little more forgiving Friday in the Masters. The consolation was still having the lead, but just barely.

Rose didn’t hit one putt hard enough to get through the fringe behind the fourth green. Another putt on the sixth hole didn’t have enough pace and returned back to him some 60 feet away.

All around him, major champions and a Masters rookie scored well enough to close the gap. The contenders even included Si Woo Kim, who broke his putter in anger and used a fairway metal to putt the final four holes.

Rose was among 12 players who broke par Thursday. He wasn’t among the 40 who broke par on Friday.

“I didn’t quite appreciate the scoring was going to be quite so good today,” he said.

Even so, his even-par 72 was good enough for a one-shot lead going into a weekend filled with a little mystery how Augusta National will play and plenty of possibilities for who will win the green jacket.

One certainty: It won’t be Dustin Johnson, who took 64 putts in 36 holes and missed the cut by two shots.

Rose was at 7-under 137, one shot ahead of Brian Harman (69) and Will Zalatoris (68), the 24-year-old from Dallas who still doesn’t have a full PGA Tour card.

“I wanted to be here my entire life,” Zalatoris said after birdies on his last three holes to get in the final group. “Some people shy away from that, but I’m excited to be here. There’s no reason to feel intimidated now. I made it to here. And obviously, the job is not done by any means.”

Jordan Spieth (68) and Marc Leishman (67) were two shots behind. Spieth stands out for his wizardry around Augusta National — one green jacket, two runner-up finishes and a third place in his seven appearances — and because he is coming off a victory in the Texas Open that ended a drought of nearly four years.

“Having made a triple and five over-par holes through two rounds, I feel pretty good about being at 5 under,” Spieth said after a 68.

The group three shots behind included Kim, who shot 69 without having much a chance to make birdies with a fairway metal on the greens. After a three-putt bogey on the 14th and a chip that nearly ran off the green at the 15th, he jammed the head of the club into the turf and damaged it.

Asked if he had a backup putter, Kim replied, “No. I don’t want to answer anymore. Sorry.”

Rose was staked to a four-shot lead at the start of a warm, overcast day and it was gone after his fourth bogey in seven holes. He didn’t drop a shot the rest of the way, picked up three birdies on the back nine and salvaged the day.

“Just a classic day at Augusta National when you’re slightly off,” Rose said. “I kind of told myself going up the eighth hole, ‘You’re leading the Masters.’ Your frame of reference is a little bit different to yesterday. Four ahead is something, but you’re still leading. So just enjoy it and keep it going.”

The course played to an average score of 72.2, compared with 74.5 for the opening round.

Bernd Wiesberger of Austria and Tony Finau each had 66 to get within three shots. Also in that group was Justin Thomas, who can returned to No. 1 in the world with a victory. He missed a short par putt on the final hole and shot 67.

“For as tough as this place has been playing, I felt like it was as easy as it could have been,” Thomas said.

The wild card in all this is Zalatoris, built like a 1-iron and already renowned for his ball striking. His late run began with a 9-iron to a back right pin on the par-3 16th to 10 feet and ended with a wedge from 138 yards on the 18th to 5 feet.

“Being here is a childhood dream,” he said. “Final group on Saturday is pretty cool.”

Zalatoris played some of his best when golf was shut down during the pandemic. Zalatoris was on the Korn Ferry Tour and, when golf resumed, he had five straight finishes in the top six, including his first victory.

That got him into the U.S. Open, where he tied for sixth. Now he has temporary PGA Tour membership and is among the top 50 in the world, getting him into the Masters. That’s why he talks of an “attitude of gratitude.”

Zalatoris also is a quick study with a long memory. He grew up with the kids of former PGA champion Lanny Wadkins, and took in tales of Wadkins and his 23 times playing the Masters. One story Zalatoris heard when he was 14 years old came in handy on the par-3 12th hole.

“He just said that whenever it’s into the wind … it just doesn’t really affect the ball as much,” Zalatoris said. “And when it’s downwind, that’s where guys tend to struggle.”

The wind was about 10 mph into him and out of the left, 153 yards to the hole. He hit a shot that normally goes 152 yards and it carried 150. It helped that he made a 35-foot putt for birdie.

It has been 42 years since Fuzzy Zoeller became the most recent player to win the Masters on his first try.

Right there with Zalatoris is another Dallas resident — Spieth, who is looking like the Spieth of old at age 27. He thought he could win at Augusta even before he won last week in Texas.

“I’m in position now to think that for sure,” Spieth said. “But at the halfway point, I would have been pleased with being two back.”

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