Rory McIlroy Leads Tiger Woods, Other Contenders Heading Into Weekend at Augusta

Rory McIlroy Leads Tiger Woods, Other Contenders Heading Into Weekend at Augusta AUGUSTA, Ga. — Rory McIlroy fretted about an errant chip that nearly slid into the water, a few putts that didn't fall in the cup.

That's about it.

The 21-year-old from Northern Ireland put together another strong round at the Masters, shooting a 3-under 69 Friday that put him at the head of a hard-charging pack that included a bunch of youngsters, one older champion and a very familiar challenger, Tiger Woods.

"I drove it good. I gave myself a lot of opportunities. I just didn't make as many putts as I would've liked on the back nine," McIlroy said. "But I can't really complain. I'm in the lead going to the weekend at the Masters."

He's clearly gotten over any bad memories from last year's British Open, where he opened with a 63 and fell apart the next day in a howling wind to shoot 80.

In hindsight, McIlroy doesn't mind what happened last summer. He figures it helped him grow as a golfer, especially when it comes to dealing with adversity.

He hasn't had much of that during the first two days at Augusta.

McIlroy went 29 holes before he made his first bogey at the picturesque 12th hole, where his tee shot plopped into a bunker and he couldn't get up and down. Otherwise, he showed a maturity beyond his years.

Among those he will be trying to hold off is Woods, the four-time Masters champion mired in the longest losing streak of his career.

He's always a contender at Augusta. This year, it seems, will be no different.

Playing in the next-to-last group, Woods got off to a rough start. His very first tee shot found a bunker, leading to bogey. He took another with a weak chip at No. 3, the shortest par-4 on the course.

But Woods found his rhythm around the turn with three straight birdies. Then, in the waning sunlight, he strung together three more in a row and just missed a fourth at the 16th, a short but slick putt sliding just wide of the hole.

McIlroy will be paired in the final group Saturday with one of his playing partners from the first two days, Jason Day.

The 23-year-old Australian is another of golf's young guns, and he showed no respect for a course he's playing for the first time this week. Day made eight birdies in the best round of the tournament, a 64 that sent him surging up the leaderboard. He's only two shots behind McIlroy's 10-under 134 total.

The third member of their group, 22-year-old Californian Rickie Fowler, also was in contention. He posted a 69 — meaning the threesome combined for a 14-under score — and was in a group at 139.

"It was fun playing with Rory and Rickie out there," Day said. "I can't even remember shooting 8 under. It was just a lot of great golf and I'm looking forward to the weekend."

Of course, this is all new to him.

"I'm sure I will be very nervous," Day said. "I'll try to relax tonight and just go out there and have fun."

While the focus at this Masters has been on youth, let's not forget the older guys.

Fred Couples, the 1992 champion, was in contention for the second year in a row. Wearing those comfortable golf sneakers that help him deal with a balky back, he strolled around the course as though he owns the place on the way to a 68 that took his score to 139.

"I know the course more than most people," he said, "and that helps."

The 51-year-old Couples made a serious run at another green jacket last year. He led after the first round and wound up sixth, seven strokes behind winner Phil Mickelson.

This time, he opened with a 71 and really turned it on for Day 2, making five birdies and two nifty saves at the end of his round. If Couples can keep it going for two more days – no certainty, given his chronic back problems — he'll have another shot at becoming the oldest major champion ever.

"Can I still win?" Couples mused. "Yeah, I think I can go out there tomorrow and shoot a very good score. Then I'd have to do something crazy on Sunday."

The defending champ has a lot of work to do.

Mickelson scrambled for a 70 in the first round despite hitting fewer fairways than anyone in the 99-player field. His erratic play continued Friday, forcing him to spend more time saving pars than chasing birdies.

"I left too many chances out there," he said. "We've got the weekend to look forward to, and fortunately, I'm not in that bad of a spot. If I can shoot a good round, I can get back in it."

The world's top-ranked player was heading home.

Martin Kaymer played better after an opening 78, but even a closing birdie for a 72 wasn't nearly enough to end his Augusta misery. He's never made the cut in the year's first major, missing out for the fourth time in a row.

The Masters Leaderboard (PGA)
Pos  Name Score Thru
1 R. McIlroy -10 18
2 J. Day -8 18
3t T. Woods -7 18
3t K. Choi -7 18
5t G. Ogilvy -6 18
5t A. Quiros -6 18
7t L. Westwood -5 18
7t F. Couples -5 18
7t R. Fowler -5 18
7t R. Barnes -5 18
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