Patrick Reed and Marc Leishman scorched Augusta National on Friday, but they might want to look to a wise soul for some fitting advice entering the final two rounds of play at the Masters.
Leroy Robert Paige, perhaps the sagest counselor this side of Yogi Berra, oft suggested not to look backward. Something — or someones — could be lurking close behind and might be gaining on you.
Someones like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and Bubba Watson, a group of golfers with an even dozen major championships among them.
But maybe not all that close. Save for Watson and Rose, the other five are within six shots of Reed, who is at 9 under.
Just when it seemed the only winner would be the difficult course — the treacherous, shifty winds and variety of angles with only 16 of 87 golfers posting subpar scores and just seven scores in the 60s — enter Reed. The San Antonio native, who lives in Spring, is one of the game’s biggest bombers. He’s the next young gun aiming to push his name among the upper echelon alongside the Spieths and Thomases.
He’s carved up the four par-5 holes with eight birdies in eight chances the past two days and isn’t missing fairways. And he’s no stranger to high stress because he has dominated in Ryder Cup play, often as a teammate of Spieth, whom Reed vanquished at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
“Par 5s are huge to pick up ground here,” Reed said.
He blistered the course with a 6-under-par 66 for a two-shot lead over Leishman, recording nine birdies, including six on an electric front nine. But Leishman kept him within sight with birdies on the first three holes and five on the day, along with a brilliant eagle after his deft approach shot on the par-5 15th, for a 67.
Of course, Reed should know this place better than most.
The 27-year-old played his college golf just down the street at Augusta State. And played it well, leading the Jaguars to back-to-back Division I national championships.
Leishman has been just as close to major championships as Reed, who came up short by two shots to Thomas in last year’s PGA Championship and shared the lead at the 2015 U.S. Open that Spieth won. The 34-year-old Aussie flirted with a green jacket in 2013 won by another countryman, Adam Scott, and was a runner-up in a 2015 British Open playoff. “I’m just comfortable here,” Leishman said.
They might not be the biggest names in golf, with no major titles, but those who are are hanging back in the shadows. Well, most of them.
Uh, about that Tiger watch.
The most famous golfer in the world could be running out of time. Tiger Woods couldn’t get out of his own way, couldn’t make a putt to save his life and finished with a 4 over par. But he’s not going home yet.
The four-time Masters winner never got going and didn’t score on one of the four par-5 holes until his seventh try in two days with a birdie on No. 13.
The leaderboard, for the most part, is right off the CBS wish list, starting with Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion who has gone second, first, second and 11th in his four starts here but took a step back with his 74. He trails Reed by five.
Besides Spieth, who struggled before rallying to recover and sit in fourth place, there are all manner of major champions in striking distance. And who knows how many farther down in the standings might be able to make a run, given the forecast of thunderstorms Saturday that could soften these greens and bring a lot of folks back into the chase.
McIlroy, looking for a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam, is tied with Spieth, and No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson shot a 68 to land in a sixth-place tie.
“I got through Amen Corner unscathed,” McIlroy said. “Anything under par today was pretty good.”
British Open champion Stenson shot himself into serious contention, posting a 70 after his opening-round 69 to sit four back in third place.
A watery shot on No. 15 by Watson denied the two-time Masters winner a chance to breach the top five. He and 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose pace a group of six at 2 under.
For all his troubles early, Spieth likes his position. He liked it a lot better after the round than he did when he dropped three strokes in the first two holes of the day.
But his struggles to a 74 after an opening-round 66 Wednesday are mitigated by the fact that Augusta National showed her teeth on a sunny but gusty day that played tricks with a lot of the golfers’ reads and subsequently their shots.
Spieth fell into a tie for fourth with McIlroy from his high perch alone atop the Masters leaderboard after a first round that admirer Ben Crenshaw called “spectacular.”
His rally from that dangerous start, which might have taken a lesser man to his knees, motivated the former Longhorn because he’s known trouble as well as triumph on this course.
He referenced those demons the day before but showed Friday that he can take a punch. Several of them, actually.
“I’ve taken a lot of punches on this golf course,” Spieth said. “Good starts are really nice out here. So what’s the first couple holes on a Friday start mean? It doesn’t really mean much to me. I’m still in a great position.”
Not as good as Reed’s.
“If you don’t think you can win, you shouldn’t be playing,” Reed said. “I just need to go out, continue shooting in the 60s and see if I can get the job done.”
Saturday: 2 p.m., CBS
Sunday: 11 a.m., CBS