Jordan Spieth made Friday feel like Sunday at the Masters.
Fans rose to their feet and applauded when Spieth walked onto the 12th tee, and for the next two hours, ovations greeted him on tee boxes and greens. The red number next to his name on the leader board — 14-under par — was better than 11 of the last 13 winners.
It was easy to forget the Masters was only half over.
When the 21-year-old Texan tapped in for par and a 6-under 66, he broke the 36-hole record at the Masters that had stood for 39 years. Spieth was at 14-under 130, a two-day total matched by only three other players in major championship history.
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And his five-shot lead over Charley Hoffman looked even larger considering that Spieth was a runner-up in his Masters debut last year, and he came to Augusta this year as the hottest player in golf.
“I got standing ovations walking to multiple greens,” Spieth said. “I mean, that’s something you can only dream about. It’s Friday, too. I’d like to have the same thing happening on Sunday. Got a lot of work to do before that happens.”
Hoffman tried to keep pace with Spieth and ran off three birdies on the back nine until closing with a bogey for a 68. He was five shots behind at 135, a score that would have been leading at 36 holes in the last three Masters. Hoffman didn’t care about that.
“It’s this year. It’s not any other year,” he said. “I’m just playing golf and I’ve only played 36 holes. And we’ve got a lot of golf left.”
Dustin Johnson opened with a double bogey, and then became the first player in Masters history to make three eagles in one round. A bogey from the trees on the last hole gave him a 67, and he was seven shots behind, along with Justin Rose (70) and Paul Casey (68). Phil Mickelson (68) was eight behind.
One score that didn’t matter belonged to Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion playing in his 44th and final competitive round on the course. He missed the cut and in a poignant moment, longtime Augusta caddie Carl Jackson came onto the 18th green for a long, warm embrace.
“I feel like I’ve won the tournament,” Crenshaw said.
Rory McIlroy certainly didn’t feel that way.
The career Grand Slam might have to wait for McIlroy, though he stayed alive for a green jacket this week – mathematically, anyway – by making the cut. He went out in 40 and fell below the cut line, only to answer with a 31 on the back nine for another 71.
Even so, he was 12 shots behind at 2-under 142.
“I’m proud of myself the way I fought back,” McIlroy said. “I’m going to need four more nines like that to have a chance, it looks like. Jordan has played a phenomenal two rounds of golf and doesn’t look like he’s going to let up.”
Tiger Woods was on the same score as McIlroy and had a different outlook.
The four-time Masters champion made only one bogey in his round of 69 – ending a streak of nine straight rounds at Augusta without breaking 70 – and said a few putts falling is all that has kept him from being closer.
“And I’m still right there,” Woods said. “I’m 12 back, but there’s not a lot of guys ahead of me. And with 36 holes here to go, anything can happen — ’96 proved that. So we have a long way to go.”
He was referring to Greg Norman losing a six-shot lead on the final day in 1996.
Spieth might find confidence in another reference.
The three other players who had a five-shot lead after 36 holes at Augusta — Herman Keiser in 1946, Jack Nicklaus in 1975 and Raymond Floyd in 1976. All went on to win. Floyd previously had the 36-hole record of 131 at the Masters in that 1976 wire-to-wire victory.
Perhaps even more valuable was Spieth’s experience last year. He was tied for the lead with Bubba Watson and two shots ahead with 11 holes to play when he fell behind and never caught up to Watson. What he learned that day was to be patient.
“The hardest thing to do is put aside wanting to win so bad, and just kind of going through the motion and letting my ball striking and putting happen,” Spieth said. “I got off to a great start and had a chance to win last year on Sunday. I’d like to have that same opportunity this year. Again, this is only the halfway point and I’m aware of that. I’m going to try and stay … very patient these last two days and understand it’s going to feel like a whole ‘nother tournament.”
Much like his opening round of 64, his second round was without much stress — it even included one unlikely birdie.
Spieth hit into a bunker on the par-5 eighth hole, so close to the lip that he could only advance it some 30 yards and still had 235 yards left for his third shot. Spieth hit a hybrid that caught the contours perfectly and settled 2 feet from the cup for a birdie.
Billy Horschel, playing with Spieth, was just short in two. He went up to the green to check the line and noticed Spieth’s ball next to the flag. Walking back, he held his hands about a yard apart as Spieth was 100 yards away. Horschel shook his head and started laughing.
He’s seen enough of this for two days. He’s come to expect it. Spieth said Horschel told him after the first round that he should get a tape recording of “Nice hole, Jordan,” to play on every tee box.
That’s about what it has looked like. The question is whether Spieth can keep it going. “It’s a long, long way from being finished,” Ernie Els said after a 72 put him nine shots back. “A lot of work still to be done, so we'll see. But he’s very, very impressive.”