Top-ranked Dustin Johnson made his way through Amen Corner and clung to a share of the lead with South Korean Im Sung-jae in the second round of the 84th Masters on Friday. Johnson, the 2016 US Open winner, started Augusta National’s back nine and went around with 8 under, level for the lead with Im, a 22-year-old trying to become the first Masters winner since 1979. Third seeded Justin Thomas, who also started on the 10th hole, closed his first nine with four birdies in a row, but fell on one hand from the lead with a double bogey on the first. Johnson’s three birdies on the famous three-hole stretch from age 11 included an eight-foot putt at par 3 12th and a four foot par 5 13th to reach 10 under for a four-stroke lead.
But he followed with a three-putt bogey at 14 and sent his approach into the water for bogey on the 15th par-5 and then made his way to the turn.
Earlier, Johnson sank a five-foot bird putt in the 18th to complete a 65th opening round to share the 18-hole lead after storms forced a finish on Friday morning.
After his career lowest mastery lap and the first without a bogey, Johnson was quickly back on the course for the second round.
“Keeping playing is definitely a great advantage,” said Johnson. “I’m on a roll.”
Johnson could become the first world number one to win the Masters since Tiger Woods in 2002.
Johnson has been a finalist in three of the last six majors, including the best effort ever at the Masters last year.
The skinny 36-year-old American, who grew up just an hour’s drive from Augusta, missed two planned Masters preparations after testing positive for Covid-19 last month, but was a finalist last week at Houston on his return to tour.
– McIlroy fight –
Since the Covid-19 PGA Tour break, Johnson has won at Hartford, finished second in the PGA Championship, won the Tour Championship and shared sixth at the US Open.
Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, rolled in four- to eight-foot bird putts to briefly join the leaders, but started from the first tee, hit a tree, and went over the green on of his approach in a Friday the 13th nightmare.
Thomas finished a morning of 68, having never shot better than a 73 in four opening rounds of the previous Masters.
Im birdie 12 and 13 and responded to a bogey at 14 with a birdie at 15 to stay at Johnson’s level.
Fifth-ranked Rory McIlroy in search of a green jacket to finish a career Grand Slam, had four of his first eight holes in the second round to rekindle his hopes of a Masters victory.
After tripping over an open of 75 to share the 77th, the four-time major winner started the 10th with a birdie, wound up in a 10-foot birdie on par-3 12th, sank an eight-foot putt for birdie on par- 5 15th and made a 15-foot bird putt in the 17th to reach 1 under, the intended cut.
Rain-softened Augusta National surrendered the lowest opening round scoring average in Masters history at 71.43 strokes.
There were 53 below par in the first round and 24 scores in the ’60s, both records for any round in Masters history. The old mark for under-par players was 47 in the second round in 1992.
Defending champion Woods was awaiting a late start after opening the 68, with the 15-time major winner and five-time Masters champion tying his best start from Augusta National.
It was his first Masters round without a bogey since 2008 and in any major event since 2009.
The German Bernhard Langer, 63, two-time Masters champion, started with 68. With Larry Mize, 62, winner of the 1987 Masters, opening at 70, it was the first round in the history of major golf where two players over 60 got broken by.
The Masters was postponed from its usual April date by the Covid-19 pandemic, which also forced spectators to be banned as a safety measure.
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