AUGUSTA, Ga.:Scottie Scheffler strolled off Augusta National with both hands in his pockets as if he had just finished a casual round at home in the late afternoon.
The Masters was anything but that Friday.
The wind roaring through the Georgia pines gave Tiger Woods and so many others all they could handle, a relentless fight from tee to green. And then Scheffler made it feel even tougher.
His 5-under 67 matched the low score of the day and gave him a five-shot lead, tying a Masters record after 36 holes. The last four players who led by five shots going into the weekend went on to win. The lone exception was Harry “Lighthorse” Cooper in 1936.
That brought little more than a shrug from the No. 1 player in the world.
“I think I’m still playing against the golf course out there,” Scheffler said. “And there’s a bunch of other guys in he field. So I can’t be paying too much attention to them either way.”
Scheffler is beating them all, along with an increasingly difficult Augusta National.
“You live on a knife’s edge every hole, honestly,” said Adam Scott, who played in Scheffler’s group. “And I was playing with a guy who made it look easy. But that’s how he’s playing at the moment.”
In his debut as the new No. 1 player in the world, Scheffler looked the part. He was bogey-free over the final 15 holes, played smart from the fairways and trusted every shot he faced even as the wind was as strong as it was fickle.
Scheffler, the 25-year-old Texas Longhorn, has won three of his last five starts on the PGA Tour and doesn’t appear to be overwhelmed by the stage of Augusta National.
“I put myself in position, where I’m in position to win this golf tournament. I couldn’t ask for anything more after 36 holes,” Scheffler said. “My game feels like it’s in a good spot. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing and not overthink things.”
He was at 8-under 136, five shots clear of defending champion Hideki Matsuyama (69), former champion Charl Schwartzel (69), former British Open champion Shane Lowry (68) and 18-hole leader Sungjae Im (74).
Woods was nine shots behind, a daunting task even on two good legs.
Despite four bogeys after five holes, Woods patched together a 74 and made it to the weekend in his first 72-hole event since the November 2020 Masters.
“Hey, I made the cut. I got a chance going into the weekend,” Woods said. “I think it’s going to be the golf course that Augusta National wants. It’s going to be quicker, drier, faster. It’s going to be a great test.”
Former Masters champion Dustin Johnson (73) led a group at 2-under 142, while the bunch another shot behind included two-time major champion Collin Morikawa and former PGA champion Justin Thomas, whose 67 matched Scheffler for best of the day.
Two hours after the start of a glorious and calm spring day in Augusta, the wind arrived with a blast and players held on for dear life. Scheffler could see sand blow out of the bunkers. Flags were ripping. Scores were soaring.
“Felt like I went 10 rounds with Canelo,” Sergio Garcia said of champion fighter Canelo Alvarez. That was after a hard-earned 74.
Spieth hit two into Rae’s Creek and took triple bogey on the par-3 12th. At least this was on a Friday, though he wound up missing the cut when he made double bogey on the 18th.
Scott was trying to stay in the mix until he had a wedge spin back into the water on the par-5 15th, hit the next over the green and took triple bogey.
Scheffler had no such troubles, even if it didn’t feel that way.
“I definitely feel like I was in a fight today,” he said. “I guess the only thing I would say to that is maybe I just performed a little bit better.”
Scheffler got his mistakes out of he way early and began to seize control with two birdies right before making the turn. After a tough par save from right of the 11th green, he added two birdies from 12 feet on the par-3 12th and a tough pitch from well right on the par-5 13th.
By then, the wind began to subside in the late afternoon and Scheffler began to pull away with two more birdies that made him a clear and difficult target on the weekend.
And to think only two months ago he still didn’t have a PGA Tour victory.
Woods made it through another hike along the undulating terrain of Augusta National, his limp more noticeable from a right leg held together with rods and screws from his car crash 14 months ago.
“I don’t feel as good as I would like to feel,” Woods said with a smile. “That’s OK. As I said, I’ve got a chance going into the weekend. Hopefully, I’ll have one of those light bulb moments and turn it on in the weekend and get it done.”
His putter wasn’t helping any. All the key putts Woods made in the opening round weren’t falling Friday as he piled up four bogeys in his opening five holes, raising questions if his improbable return to the Masters would only last two days.
And now he has two more.
Coming off consecutive bogeys at the start of Amen Corner, he was headed for more trouble on the par-5 13th except that he missed badly enough to stay on right side of the tributary of Rae’s Creek, setting up a pitch-and-putt for birdie.
“It was tough for everybody,” Woods said, and before long came a wry smile. “Obviously, there’s a few people who aren’t struggling out there.”
One of those would be Scheffler, who has everyone’s attention.
Another was Thomas, with whom Woods played his practice rounds last week and in the days leading up to the Masters. He opened with a 76 and spent the rest of the day sulking at what looked to be a lost opportunity.
He capped off his 67 with three straight birdies along the back nine.
“I very easily could be going home right now, and not only am I not, but I’m in a really good spot going into this weekend,” Thomas said.
He was seven behind, nonetheless, though he wasn’t the least bit surprised Scheffler was able to post such good rounds to build a big lead.
“If I played how I should yesterday, I should be right there with him,” Thomas said. “This place, I love it because you can make so many birdies — even in conditions like this, if you plot your way around and know how to get it around, you can make a lot of birdies. It exposes you when it gets this windy if you don’t have control of your ball.
“He clearly has control of everything right now based off the last couple of months, so I’m not too surprised,” he added. “But yeah, I would appreciate it if he would stop going too far away.”
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