AUGUSTA, Ga. — The second round of the Masters opened with tumult and sloppy play.
A little while later, Phil Mickelson, who began Friday just four strokes off the lead, found himself in the woods, where he tried a recovery shot that ricocheted off a tree trunk and disappeared in a bush. There may have been symbolism in that result since Mickelson soon disappeared from the leaderboard.
Not long after Mickelson’s misadventure, Tiger Woods clubbed his ball from the pine straw alongside a fairway and sent it rocketing into the darkest reaches of a grove behind a green. Woods ended up shooting a 3-over-par 75 and barely qualified to play the rest of the tournament. Woods is now 4-over for the tournament, and Mickelson, one shot behind him, made the cut by only a stroke.
But after all the early hardship and ugly play, a host of other golfers later in the day played with a poised efficiency that sent them surging into contention. In the end, the Masters’ halfway point brought a leaderboard stacked with past major champions, including Spieth, who rebounded from his poor start.
Patrick Reed, who shot a sparkling 66 with nine birdies, was the second-round leader at 9-under par, and Marc Leishman, who shot a 67, was two strokes back for the tournament. Neither Reed nor Leishman has won a major championship, and lurking behind them were eight major winners within seven strokes.
That group included Henrik Stenson, who was in third at 5-under, plus Spieth and Rory McIlroy, who were one stroke behind Stenson.
Dustin Johnson, the runaway favorite to win the 2017 Masters until he was injured just before the event, shot a 68 Friday to reaffirm his candidacy for a green jacket. Johnson was at 3-under. Tied with Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner, was Justin Thomas, last year’s PGA champion.
Justin Rose and Louis Oosthuizen, also major winners, were another stroke back, as was Bubba Watson, the two-time Masters champ.
But the spotlight shone brightest on Reed, and with good reason. He is a galvanizing figure in the game, renowned for a cocky demeanor and a showy Ryder Cup record. But Reed, the world’s 24th-ranked golfer, has been forced to wait impatiently for his first major victory. His best finish in a major has been second place at the PGA Championship last year, when he finished two strokes behind Thomas.
And Reed’s Masters record is far from glittering. In four appearances, he has twice missed the cut. He also tied for 22nd and tied for 49th. Not surprisingly, past failures do not weigh on the self-assured Reed.
“The more you play someplace, especially Augusta National, the more you pick up the little subtleties,” he said late Friday. “I’m in a better frame of mind with my golf game and mentally.”
Reed, 27, insisted he would sleep well as the midpoint leader of the Masters.
“I’ve just got to stick to my game plan,” he said. “There’s a long way to go.”
With rain forecast throughout Saturday afternoon in the Augusta area, the third round could be a test of not only golf skill but also the ability to battle uncomfortable conditions.
Reed, true to form, had one response: Bring it on.
“I am from Texas,” he said, smiling as he noted that wind and rain are common elements faced by golfers in the Lone Star State.
With a glint in his eye, he added, “I would say I like it when it gets challenging.”
Hours before Reed soared to the top of the leaderboard, Spieth’s implosion was the most startling turn of events, especially since he had streaked through Thursday’s first round with five consecutive birdies in his final nine holes. But Spieth said he was not overly unnerved by his early stumble, even if it left him 3 over par for the day after just two holes.
“I’ve taken some punches on this golf course before and come back,” Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion, said. “I knew I had to correct some things, but it didn’t affect me that much. On this golf course, you have to know and remember that the rest of the field is going to make bogeys and double bogeys, too.
“You can make up a lot of ground.”
But Spieth bogeyed the seventh hole as well and recorded a 4-over-par 40 on the front nine.
“I was thinking that if I shot 2-under on the back nine, I’d still be in good shape,” said Spieth, who had birdies on the 13th and 15th holes. “You have to know that you can fight back on this course.”
Leishman, 34, has perhaps played the most consistently of anyone in the field so far, although he missed several birdie opportunities in the middle of Friday’s round. Then he had a bogey on the 14th hole, where he seemed a little rattled. In that moment, Leishman later admitted, he flashed back to the 2014 Masters, where he shot a 70 in the first round and was near the leaders but fell apart in the second round, shooting a 79 and missing the cut.
“I thought about that day some today,” Leishman said. “When things weren’t going well that day, I started pressing and got a little impatient and you can’t do that here. I switched off a little bit that day.
“But I learned from that, which is the important part. And so today, I stayed with my plan for the golf course.”
At the 2015 British Open, Leishman was in a three-way playoff with Zach Johnson and Oosthuizen, which Johnson won after four holes.
Tony Finau, who came back from a serious ankle injury to tie for second place in the first round, slumped a bit with a 2-over 74 on Friday. But he was still tied for eighth place at 2-under.
Defending champion Sergio Garcia, who shot 81 in the first round, was only marginally better Friday. His 78 left him 15 strokes over par for his two rounds at Augusta National this week.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.