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Eclectic mix of players lead 81st Masters

Rickie Fowler shares the lead after two rounds at the Masters (Photo: Getty Images)
Overnight leader Charley Hoffman needed 10 strokes more than his opening 65 on day two of the 81st Masters but so dominant was his Thursday performance that he retains a share of top spot despite shooting 75.

Hoffman slipped to 4-over at the halfway stage to be part of a four-way tie, fellow American and crowd favourite Rickie Fowler producing the best round of the day to sit alongside Hoffman with Sergio Garcia and Masters rookie Thomas Pieters also at that mark.

It was a roller coaster Friday at Augusta National which saw some remarkable golf, both good and bad, and just nine players were under par when the final putt fell late in the evening.

Among those in red figures is the evergreen Fred Couples whose approach to the 18th late in the day came within a whisker of finding the cup for an eagle, the final hole birdie seeing him to 1-under for the tournament and a share of sixth place.

Will McGirt backed up his impressive opening 69 with a 73 to be outright fifth at 2-under with Ryan Moore, Justin Rose and impressive rookie Jon Rahm joining Couples at 1-under and three back.

But it was another Spaniard who caught the attention of the world’s media Friday, perennial major bridesmaid Sergio Garcia playing his way to a share of the lead despite a 45-minute scoring debacle which had many believing he recorded a triple bogey at the par-4 10th.

The 37-year-old was on fire early, opening with three straight birdies and making the turn 3-under and within one of the lead.

But he hooked his tee shot at the 10th and, believing his ball may be lost, opted to hit a provisional off the tee.

His original ended up being in play having bounced off a tree but spotters on the course were unaware, believing he had played his second ball and marking him down for a seven.

However Garcia, in a display of new found calmness which partly explains his position on the leaderboard, took the incident in his stride.

“The most important thing is I knew where I stood,” he said when asked if he had been aware of the mistake. “I knew I wasn't 1‑under. I knew I was 3.

“It was a little bit of a funky hole for us.  Obviously I didn't hit a good tee shot.  I got lucky, I have to say, I got very lucky with the bounce there.

“Then I hit 3‑wood into the green and I got a little bit lucky again, almost made an unbelievable par.

“But Shane (Lowry) hit two balls to the left and we were looking, we couldn't find it, we found the second one.

“So we are all dressed light color pants and blue sweater, so I can see why they might have made the mistake. But it was fine.”

Also fine was Garcia’s game as he parlayed a 3-under front nine into a 69 for the day to hold a share of the lead at Augusta for just the second time in 19 appearances.

An opening 66 in 2013 had him tied for the lead with Marc Leishman though he went on to finish T8 that year behind Adam Scott.

While Garcia is a sentimental favourite with some there’s no question the crowd favourite among the leaders is American Rickie Fowler.

The flamboyant 28-year-old set the crowds roaring with a hole-out from a greenside bunker at the par-5 second for an eagle to get to red figures then climbed the leaderboard with two more birdies to the turn.

His only blemish in a 5-under 67 came at the par-5 15th where a flushed fairway wood flew the green and found water beyond, leading to a six.

He bounced back with a brilliant birdie at the next and having missed the cut last year courtesy of an opening 80 is in prime position to contend for a maiden major title.

While Fowler has shown form at Augusta National previously the surprise performance of the day came from Masters rookie Thomas Pieters whose 68 was the second best score of the day.

The long hitting Belgian had raced to 5-under through 10 holes on Thursday only to give all those shots back on his way to the clubhouse, including a careless double bogey at the last.

After what must have felt like a devastating collapse on day one, though, Pieters showed great resilience to bounce back on day two and his progress over the weekend will be of enormous interest to keen followers of the game.

While there will be much focus on the top of the leaderboard there are storylines aplenty among the contenders with three-time winner Phil Mickelson in the mix despite undoing some excellent front nine play with a careless finish.

At 1-under for the day through 13 and just two behind the leaders, ‘lefty’ gave away three strokes in the last four holes to slip back to even par and T10.

Also on that mark are fellow former champions Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, both fighting back from disappointing opening rounds of 75.

World Number Two Rory McIlroy battled his game for the second straight day but at 1-over for the tournament and T13 he is far from out of it though needs a low scoring weekend.

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