By Jack Ryan
Look who’s surged to the top of the Masters leaderboard after yesterday’s second round:
“Things are happening at the moment,” Sergio Garcia said following his 3-under-par 69 yesterday at the 81st Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. “So I want to make sure that I keep riding that wave.”
On another difficult day, where biting cold greeted the players and strong winds stayed throughout, the Spaniard rode a terrific start to the first page of the leaderboard. The man labeled as the Best Player without a Major started off with three birdies and overcame his first three bogeys of the tournament with three more birdies to move to 4-under 140 through 36 holes.
That earned him a tie atop the leaderboard alongside Rickie Fowler (67), Charley Hoffman (75) and Thomas Pieters (68).
Pieters, the Belgium Bomber who had a breakout performance in the 2016 Ryder Cup, is in position to win in his first Masters. Since he was a kid he’s always dreamed of making the putt to win a green jacket.
“I’ve holed the winning putt about a million times,” he said. “I’ve watched it my whole life, as do all those guys. We’ve all had that in practice, that winning putt. Hopefully one day.”
One day might come Sunday. Unless William McGirt, playing in his first Masters and is two shots back, makes the putt. He followed a 69 — he and Hoffman were the only players to break 70 in the first round — with a 73.
Just three back are Justin Rose (72), Ryan Moore (69), rookie Jon Rahm (70) and Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion and crowd favorite at age 58. Couples has kept his usual cool through a few tough situations and shot 73-70. He would become by 11 years the oldest to win the Masters.
Within striking distance are a few other big names. At even par four shots back is quite a threesome — three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson (73), 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth (69) and 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott (69). Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy needs a Masters title to complete the career grand slam and is five back after a 73.
“We hung in there,” Spieth said. “We are in a good position.”
So, too, is Garcia, 37, who is 0-for-73 in the game’s four biggest tournaments, accumulating 22 top-10s, including six top-3s, and a lot of heartbreak. In his tortured relationship with majors, Garcia came closest to winning one in the 2007 British Open, when he came within an eyelash of making a putt on the 72nd hole that would have earned him the Claret Jug (it later escaped his grasp in a playoff loss to Padraig Harrington). He also fell short by one stroke to Tiger Woods in the 1999 PGA Championship, a performance that ignited thoughts of a rivalry for decades to come.
While Woods added major glory, Garcia did not despite 30 titles worldwide. In the majors, he often did himself in with a defeatist attitude and a knack for turning bad breaks into huge downfalls. But now, with a few more grays in his beard and hair, he’s a wiser man than he was back in 2012. He has worked hard to accept misfortune inside the gallery ropes instead of letting it fester.
Garcia’s personal life is on the upswing, too; he will marry former Golf Channel reporter Angela Aikens this summer.
“Things have definitely changed,” said Garcia, playing in his 19th Masters. “I think that I’m a little bit calmer now. I think that I’m working on trying to accept things. It’s part of golf. It’s not easy. It’s much easier to say than to do it. But that’s the challenge we always have, making sure that you accept the bad moments or the bad breaks with the good ones, and kind of move on. …
“I probably didn’t accept things as well as I should have. And I’ve shown myself many times after that, that I can contend and I can truly feel like I can win, not only one, but more than one. I’m excited about the challenges that this weekend is going to bring, and hopefully I’ll step up to them and I’ll be able to be up there on Sunday with a solid chance at winning.”
Fowler also is trying to win his first major. The popular star, who won earlier this year in the Honda Classic, is tied for the lead in a major after the completion of the day’s play for the first time.
“I knew the first two days would be tough and we just had to tough it out,” Fowler said. “The leaderboard is packed with big names, players with big games. It’s going to be a fun weekend.”