McIlroy closes gap on Spieth as Augusta winds come out on top

Rory McIlroy acknowledges the crowd during his second round at the 2016 Masters (Picture: Chris Carlson/AP).Rory McIlroy acknowledges the crowd during his second round at the 2016 Masters (Picture: Chris Carlson/AP).
Rory McIlroy acknowledges the crowd during his second round at the 2016 Masters (Picture: Chris Carlson/AP).
Rory McIlroy set the clubhouse target on a windswept second day of the Masters, as defending champion Jordan Spieth battled to maintain his lead and his composure.

Seeking a first green jacket in order to complete the career grand slam, McIlroy’s chances looked slim when he followed two early birdies with a double bogey on the fourth and bogeys on the fifth and 11th.

At that stage he was eight shots behind Spieth after the world No 2 birdied the first and third in pursuit of becoming just the fourth player after Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods to successfully defend the year’s first major championship.

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However, Spieth who set records for the highest number of birdies (28) and lowest 36- and 54-hole totals in Masters history last year, then four-putted the fifth from 50 feet to run up a double bogey, bringing back unhappy memories of doing the same on the eighth hole in the final round of the Open at St Andrews last year.

A birdie on the eighth looked to have steadied the ship, but Spieth then bogeyed the ninth and 10th and was visibly – and audibly – annoyed at being timed for slow play as he wanted to wait for the wind to die down on his approach to the 11th.

McIlroy took full advantage with birdies on the 13th, 15th and 16th and the fist pump when he saved par from the trees on the 18th told its own story.

US Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau, who was playing alongside Spieth, had birdied the 11th and 12th to join McIlroy on three under, whose 71 equalled the lowest score of the day and left him one ahead of Danny Lee and Scott Piercy, who were also safely in the clubhouse.

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“It was very difficult,” McIlroy said. “It’s very hard to select a club. On the 12th tee I felt a little lull in the wind and hit it straight away. Once you get it where you feel it you have to hit it and trust it, which is the hardest thing out there. I think anything under par (on Friday) is a very good score.

“I definitely feel like I am coming in with not as much hype or anticipation as last year. You have Jordan as defending champion, Jason (Day) getting to No 1 off a couple of wins, Adam (Scott) having a couple of wins – I felt I was just part of the narrative instead of just being the narrative and I like that position.

“I feel great. I feel so much better than I did (Thursday). I played the last three holes on two over and (Friday) I played last six holes in three under so I am really happy with how I battled and ground it out and I’ll have to do the same tomorrow.”

McIlroy had stressed the need for a good start earlier this week and was delighted to be in such a good position after a round he rated as one of his best at Augusta.

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“It’s up there,” he added. “I kept my composure and I played the shots when I needed to. It’s only the second day, there’s still two days to go, but it’s a great round and it’s nice to be up there near the lead going into the weekend here instead of on the cut line and having to battle back where I found myself the last couple years. I’m happy with where I’m at.”

Sheffield’s Danny Willett added a two-over-par 74 to his opening two-under-par 70.

He birdied the third to go three under, but it was his only gain of the day as he bogeyed holes six, seven and 16 and parred the rest.

Willett’s fellow Sheffielder Matt Fitzpatrick was unable to find a single birdie in his second round.

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He had two pairs of bogeys – at five and six and 10 and 11 – and handed in a 76 after shooting one-under-par 71 on Thursday.

Former champion Ian Woosnam has called time on his playing career at the Masters, 25 years after winning the green jacket at Augusta National.

Woosnam added an 81 to his opening 82 to finish 19 over par, although the 58-year-old was pleased to at least finish with a par on the 18th, just as he did in 1991 to edge out Jose Maria Olazabal.

“The 18th was as well as I played this week,” said the former Ryder Cup captain, who has now missed the cut in 14 of his last 15 Masters appearances.

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“It’s just getting really tough. That’s my last go. I am not fit enough to play with my bad back. Every time I play this course it just seizes on me and I can’t swing the club properly. I am in pain all the way round so it’s time to say bye-bye really.

“There’s not much they can do. I have ankylosing spondylitis and I can’t play with all the slopes here. I was swinging it beautiful before I came here.

“I am always taking pain killers just to play golf but it’s just too tough here for me.

“I said in the past that if I started shooting in the 80s I would call it a day.

“I am in just in pain all the way round and you can’t expect to play well. It’s time for me to sit back and watch.”