10 Apr 2021 | Professional golf |

Masters: Leish, mates poised to pounce

by Mark Hayes

Marc Leishman is well placed for a big weekend at Augusta National.
Marc Leishman is well placed for a big weekend at Augusta National.

They’re still chasing Justin Rose, but they’re much closer now.

And among the chasing Masters bunch at halfway, three Aussies are prominent, including Marc Leishman just two off the Englishman’s pace.

The Victorian carded an impressive 67 to vault to a share of fourth at five under, while Cam Smith finished at two under after a hot-and-cold 68 and Matt Jones at one under after a solid 69.

Adam Scott was frustrated with a lack of momentum in a flat 73 that left him right on the cut line at three over, but fellow Queenslander Jason Day will leave Georgia early after a disappointing 76 left him at nine over.

Rose, fresh off a breathtaking 65 that had him four clear after round one, stumbled out of the blocks on day two at Augusta National and immediately gave hope to the field.

That he regained composure in firing three back-nine birdies for an even-par 72 to remain at seven under was impressive.

But where he’d strung out the field on a generally savage day one, they came back in a rush at him on a second day when the scoring average was a full 2.5 strokes better.

Leishman, for the second day in a row, bounced superbly from the blocks and again briefly shared the lead midway through the back nine when his sixth birdie of the day came on the long 15th.

He made birdies on the first, second and third holes, then three more in four holes from the 12th, courtesy of the tournament's second best putting average to date, just 1.62 putts per round.

He’ll share the second last group out on day three with Brian Harman (69 to be -6), while Masters debutant Will Zalatoris (68 to be -6) will partner Rose in the final two-ball, while Jordan Spieth (68 to be -5) is also right there.

“I’m really happy (to have) got off to a good start and kept it going today,” said Leishman, three times a top-15 finisher at the Masters, including his share of fourth in 2013.

“I’m happy to have a chance and be near the lead going into the weekend.”

Smith was the hottest on course for much of the day, but made two uncharacteristic errors late in his round and paid a heavy price.

He made a hat-trick of birdies from the second and turned in 32 before nearly holing out on the 12th and again rifling his second near the flag to set up a short eagle on the 13th.

But after a bogey on the 14th, the 2020 runner-up spun his approach to the 15th back into the water and ultimately took a double-bogey seven after he’d minutes earlier shared second with good mate Leishman.

“I’m quite frustrated actually,” Smith confessed.

“I played some really good golf and to finish like that was quite disappointing.

“I had a lot going for me and I hit a lot of good shots coming in and just didn’t get anything out of it … and that was just a silly mistake on 15.”

Jones, in just his second visit to Augusta, played more like a savvy veteran with some great irons again for a second straight day.

The New South Welshman bumped in a superb running sand wedge across the width of the second green to win some treasured Masters crystal with an eagle.

But try as he might, he just couldn’t find the same love with the putter despite hitting 15 greens in regulation.

“I think 69 was as high as I could have shot today … I played great today.

I had a lot of good birdie putts out there, but the greens can be treacherous and I was probably just a little too tentative. But it’s something I can figure out tomorrow … I’ll just take what the course gives me.”

Scott split bogeys on the first and fourth with a birdie on the second, but from there made 14 straight pars, including one on the 13th where his approach looked spectacular but rebounded hard off the pin and back 15m from the cup, almost summing up his round.

Day similarly could not find any momentum, but was not only the big name to miss the weekend action with Patrick Cantlay and former world No.1s Lee Westwood, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy all among those packing up early.

But arguably the biggest surprise was that defending champ and current world No.1 Dustin Johnson will not be around.

Having careered to a Masters record 20-under total in November, the American hit a shortish approach into the water on the 15th, then closed with back-to-back bogeys to finish at five over, ensuring a long wait before he presents the winner with his green jacket. LEADERBOARD

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