The assault on Augusta continues, the firmer greens and blazing sunshine little match for the thunder of heavyweight names loitering at the top of the leaderboard. After Thursday’s sodden bludgeoning, the second round always promised to bare its teeth and claw back runaway leaders, but the absence of rain did little to stem a hail of low-scoring.
Dustin Johnson, whose first round was cut short by fading light, was typically oblivious to the unusual circumstances. A formidable run of four birdies in seven holes saw him match overnight leader Paul Casey with an opening 65, and the momentum seeped into the start of his second round. At one stage, the world No 1 was revelling in a world of his own at the top of the leaderboard, but back-to-back bogeys brought him thudding back in line, eventually finishing in a four-way share of the clubhouse lead at nine-under-par.
The surge and stutter epitomised Johnson at the majors. He is no stranger to the lead, but still only has one US Open to his name. This was an ominous glimpse of his powers, though, and once he found his rhythm nobody could keep pace. Alongside him, Justin Thomas veered from untouchable to chaotic, finishing with an opening-round 66 before taking the outright lead as Johnson staggered. But as the ground ahead cleared, the grass seemed to swallow him up too, mistakes creeping in, the pine straw calling and stunting his progress.
The two Americans still stand as firm favourites heading into the weekend, but there were surprises in the form of their close company. Abraham Ancer, the diminutive Mexican competing in his very first Masters, made a mockery of those who claim experience is the greatest commodity at Augusta, with an immaculate round of 67 that featured six birdies. Cameron Smith, who finished fifth in 2018, was propelled by a magnificent eagle on the par-5 15th and birdied the remaining three holes to make up the leading quartet.
Behind them, though, lies an imposing pack of players, with strong English representation, too. Danny Willett, the 2016 champion, and Tommy Fleetwood both carded fantastic rounds of 66 to leave themselves just two shots back. So too is Justin Rose, who seems to have finally tapped back into the rich vein of form that had deserted him so sorely in the last year. A smooth 67, completed in the morning, was followed up by a steadier grind in the afternoon, but a two-under-par 70 still leaves him well poised.
For Rory McIlroy, it was a day of wild vicissitudes, virtual despair, but above all brave resilience to clamber his way not only above the cut-line but to within six shots of the clubhouse lead. The poor weather gave the Northern Irishman a reprieve after a disastrous start on Thursday, however, there were few improvements once morning came, with a miserable round of 75 that included five bogeys. But such is the fickleness of golf and McIlroy’s own mercurial nature that after just a scarce few shots on the range, he was back on the tee and practically untouchable. A spotless second round of 66 displayed all his missing strengths and although he lags behind the frontrunners, his race is not totally run.
The same cannot be said for Bryson DeChambeau, though. The divisive American’s explosive driving echoed like a gunshot but failed again to find its target. Bitter misfortune struck on the fourth as his ball plugged in the first cut from where it was never recovered, and after a few bloated sighs and sorry chips he limped away from its clutches with a triple-bogey seven. As the sun set, the erratic US Open champion and pre-tournament favourite was left scrambling to beat the cut.
There are several contenders with second rounds to complete on Saturday morning, including Casey, who burned a steady flame even if he was unable to match his dazzling performance on Thursday. Tiger Woods plodded along with a stream of pars, while 2018 champion Patrick Reed quietly snarled his way up the leaderboard. Better than anyone, though, the stage is set for Jon Rahm, who eradicated his sloppy errors and raced to within a shot of the leaders, despite having six holes still to play. The darkness descended and halted his charge, but a new dawn looms in what promises to be a thrilling weekend at Augusta.
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