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Bubba Red-Hot on Friday at the Masters
Though he recorded his first two bogeys of the tournament, Bubba Watson continued his impressive play on Friday at Augusta National Golf Club. The 2012 Masters champion followed his opening bogey-free 69 with a 68 to reach 7-under 137.
The 35-year-old from Bagdad, Fla., had a birdie and a bogey - his first in 27 holes - on the par-4 ninth to make the turn in even-par 36. On the home half, however, Watson reeled off five straight birdies on Nos. 12-16 before closing with a par and his second bogey on the 18th after missing a short par putt for a 68.
Watson said Thursday that his strategy this week was to hit greens in regulation and leave himself a lot of 1- and 2-foot putts for par. So far, that plan has worked, as the long-hitting lefty has hit 28 of 36 greens in regulation.
"If I can hit greens, that means I've hit good tee shots, and I hit good irons shots and just trying to make par from there and throw in a birdie here and there," Watson said.
Watson, a five-time PGA Tour winner whose last victory came in February in the Northern Trust Open at another classic course, Riviera Country Club, seems to be rising to the occasion on another of the world's top layouts. That wasn't the case in 2013, however, when he had a difficult time in his return as the previous year's defending champion en route to tying for 50th.
"You're playing the best golf course in the world. So when you're out here, it's a little bit different. The emotions are different because I'm trying to get the green jacket again. I had it, there's so much you're doing when you're defending champ, and my mind can't handle it," Watson added.
"Adam [Scott] seems to be doing pretty well with it. But for me it was just overwhelming. The Champions Dinner, everybody still congratulating you, so I just never got the focus. I played really bad on Sunday last year.
"I'm coming back with the take that I want the jacket again. I'm coming back with a different mindset, full of energy. I haven't had any media [leading up to the tournament] because nobody cares about the guy a couple of years ago. So it's been good."
Australia's John Senden matched Watson's 68 for Friday's low round, moving into second at 4-under 140. Thomas Bjorn was the third player shooting 68, sending the 43-year-old Dane into third at 3-under with Sweden's Jonas Blixt (71), defending champion Adam Scott (72) of Australia, and Jordan Spieth (70).
"It was a good day," said Bjorn who carded eight birdies and four bogeys. Four of his birdies came on the final five holes.
"I hit two great shots on 13 and walked away with a five. I felt like I had to be a little bit more aggressive in my golf and I took on the shots on 14 and 16 and they paid off. And then it was good to get on the 18th and tap it in for a birdie and sign for 68. A good day's work."
After starting with a 69, the 33-year-old Scott struggled early Friday, carding three bogeys on the front nine to make the turn in 3-over 39. But the Adelaide native rebounded on the back with three birdies for his even-par round.
"Patience came through on the back nine, and I remembered what I did (in the first round) . . . Tomorrow's a big day for everyone," Scott said during a TV interview.
Fred Couples carded his second straight 71 to reach 2-under 142, the same total as fellow Americans Jimmy Walker (72) and Jim Furyk (74). The 54-year-old Couples, who earned a green jacket in 1992, always seems to play well at Augusta National, with 10 top-10 finishes and the victory in 29 previous appearances. On Friday, the Seattle native carded four birdies and three bogeys.
"I feel great about playing, I love playing here. I feel really comfortable at Augusta," Couples said in a TV interview. "A 71 with a 12:42 tee time is very satisfying."
As for Saturday, he added, "I have to putt well . . . I have so far."
First-round leader Bill Haas went 10 strokes higher than his opening 4-under 68. The 31-year-old North Carolinian never got untracked Friday, posting three birdies, seven bogeys and a double on the par-4 11th to reach 4-over 148.
The cut was set at 4-over 148. Among those qualifying right on the number are two-time major champion Rory McIlroy, who followed up his opening 71 with a 77, and Jason Day (75, 73), who won the Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year.
Joining Couples among the veteran players also making the cut are 55-year-old Larry Mize, 1987 Masters champion; 51-year-old Vijay Singh, green jacket winner in 2000; 56-year-old and two-time Masters winner Bernhard Langer; 50-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez; 56-year-old and 1988 Masters winner Sandy Lyle; 48-year-old Spaniard, Jose Maria Olazabal, who won the Masters in 1994 and '99; 45-year-old Darren Clarke; and 47-year-old Steve Stricker.
Not making the weekend was an assortment of major winners and others. Heading home are former No. 1 Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Victor Dubuisson and past green jacket winners Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Charl Schwartzel, Ian Woosnam, Zach Johnson, Mark O'Meara, Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman, Craig Stadler, Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw.
Stadler's son, Kevin, followed up his opening 70 with a 73 and is at 1-under, six strokes behind Bubba Watson. This year the Stadlers became the first father-son duo to ever play in the same Masters.
Ryan Moore extended for another year the "jinx" of the winner of Wednesday's Par-3 Contest not going on to win the Masters the same year. The former U.S. Amateur champion shot rounds of 77 and 72.
Also over the cut line were major champions Webb Simpson, Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley, Y.E. Yang and Jason Dufner.
In addition, no amateurs made the weekend. Reigning U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick of England needed a birdie on the par-4 last to get to 4-over, but he two-putted for par to miss out by a stroke and finish as the low amateur at 5-over 149.
Australia's Matt Jones, the last player to qualify for the Masters off his maiden Tour victory in last week's Shell Houston Open, carded rounds of 74 and 78. Playing in his first Masters, Jones' said his downfall was fatigue and a lack of familiarity with Augusta National's myriad nuances.
"I'll be better prepared next year as hopefully I'll be able to come out and prepare better before the tournament," the 33-year-old from Sydney said. "I'm tired, it's been a big two weeks and I'm looking forward to a couple of weeks off now. But it's been great to be here."
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