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2020 Masters: Get ready for a weekend shootout

Justin Thomas 2nd round 2020 Masters
Justin Thomas, who is 9 under through 36 holes, shares the clubhouse lead in the 2nd round of the Masters.

Justin Thomas, who finally finds his way to Butler Cabin, shares the 36-hole clubhouse lead as low scores light up Augusta National

Justin Thomas arrived at the Butler Cabin for a post-round interview with ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt. Thomas may have needed directions to find the elite villa half-hidden in the towering pines beyond Augusta National’s 10th tee.

“Is it a bad sign that I’ve been here six years and this is the first time I’ve been in the Butler Cabin?” Thomas said jokingly to Van Pelt.

It was. Even worse was the shocking stat that until Thursday, Thomas hadn’t broken par in any Masters round. Thomas erased that blotch Friday morning when he completed his rain-delayed first round with a 66, then stacked a second-round 69 on top of it. Why did it take the No. 3 player in the world (who formerly was No. 1) so long to find any success at this famed track? Thomas wasn’t even aware of that embarrassing par stat before this week.

“I knew I hadn’t been playing well, but I didn’t know it was that poor,” he said. “I felt like I’ve been behind the eight ball every time I play in this event.”

So, finally breaking par “was huge,” he conceded.

He’s done better than that. Thomas is in the thick of contention for a green jacket. He was tied for the lead at 9 under with Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith and Abraham Ancer when play was halted for darkness Friday evening. A small group of players will return to finish their second rounds Saturday morning, then the 50 players and ties who make the cut will be re-paired by score for the start of the third round (scores).

The 2020 Masters leaderboard features a fascinating mix of the usual suspects and unusual contenders. Based on his track record, Thomas might be among the latter. But this Masters is wide, wide open because soft conditions and slower putting surfaces have bunched the field. There are 17 players within four shots of the four leaders, and it is a star-studded bunch.

Johnson and Thomas are ranked Nos. 1 and 3 in the world, respectively, and No. 2 is Jon Rahm, who is one stroke back in a group that includes Patrick Cantlay, the recent Zozo Championship winner who made a strong run at the 2019 Masters, and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, always a formidable ball-striker.

The leaderboard doesn’t get any weaker farther down. Former Masters champ Danny Willett, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose are at 7 under, and multiple major winners Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson were 5 under.

The wild card in this wild Masters is that players can’t necessarily rely on their memories of Masters past because the course is unusually soft.

Related: Expect a completely different Augusta National this weekend

“You have to throw all past knowledge out the window this week, as weird as that is,” Thomas said. “Balls are making pitch marks, even on chip shots and pitches. I hit two 5-woods today that backed up, and that never happens at Augusta National. So, a lot of the things you know about the course can hurt you because [it’s not] what we’re used to.”

Scores are low. The four leaders are halfway to the all-time Masters scoring record of 18 under par set by Tiger Woods in 1997 and matched by Jordan Spieth in 2015.

“Conditions will stay relatively the same this weekend, a little soft,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to stay aggressive; you’ve got to shoot low. I like my position. I’ve been swinging well for a while now.”

Johnson narrowly missed winning the Houston Open last week upon his return from a break after a positive COVID-19 test.

He briefly threatened to leave the Masters field behind Friday morning when he began the second round with birdies at 11, 12 and 13 to reach 10 under. Then he bogeyed the next two holes and settled for a second-round 70.

Ancer and Smith were stars for the International team in the last Presidents Cup. Ancer is a 29-year-old who grew up in Mexico and is playing his first Masters. He shot 67 in the second round. Smith, 27, won the Sony Open in January finished fifth in the 2018 Masters. He’s an Australian who already has built a reputation for playing better in the big events.

Ancer said he has his Masters invitation framed and hanging in his living room. “I dreamt to play here since I was a little kid,” he said. “It’s been amazing, and I know it’s not the same as in April but it’s incredible. This is one of my favorite places in the world.”

Smith said he and Ancer became close friends during that Presidents Cup and pull for each other. “Abe finished five or 10 minutes before me, so we were giving each other fisties on the back, so it was good,” said Smith, who played 26 holes Friday and completed a 67-68 start.

Two notables were not hot on the heels of the leaders.

Tiger Woods was even par through 10 holes Friday afternoon in the wake of his opening 68. With two birdies and two bogeys on another low-scoring day, he had to feel as if he had stampede marks on his back. He is five strokes off the lead, but there are a lot of highly ranked players in his way, and Woods didn’t show the confidence of the opening round when he played so well.

The other absent notable was pre-tournament favorite Bryson DeChambeau, who suffered three bogeys and a triple bogey on the opening seven holes of the second round and, at 1 over, was in danger of missing the cut.

Related: Augusta National shows Bryson who's boss

He got a freakishly bad break, due in part to the wet conditions caused by Thursday morning’s downpour. DeChambeau tried to drive the par-4 third green but pulled his tee shot left. The ball embedded in the soft wet ground just short and left of the green. The allotted time for searching for a lost ball was reduced from five minutes to three minutes before this year, and with no gallery and no marshals nearby, time ran out before the ball could be recovered.

“When Bryson is hitting it as hard as he hits it, it’s kind of hooking, with not much spin,” said Rahm, who was paired with DeChambeau. “We were all confident it was pretty buried and it was going to be hard to find. That affected him a little because he didn’t play his best golf after that. It was just unfortunate.”

The carry-over rounds for a second straight day mean some players have to set their alarms for alarmingly early times. Johnson said he woke up around 4:05 a.m. to play his 27 holes Friday.

Asked if he was a morning person, Johnson deadpanned, “I get up when I have to get up.”

He’ll be able to sleep in Saturday morning. This Masters is still wide open … for any player who is wide awake.


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