Masters 2017: Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler in leading quartet

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 09:  A general view of the club house prior to the start of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for Golfweek)
Did you know these fun facts on the Masters?
00:58 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Garcia, Hoffman, Pieters, Fowler lead at -4

McGirt at -2

Couples -1; Spieth, Mickelson level

CNN  — 

Five years ago at Augusta he said he wasn’t “good enough” to win a major, now Sergio Garcia shares the halfway lead with Charley Hoffman, Thomas Pieters and Rickie Fowler at the Masters.

Garcia fired a three-under 69 on another breezy day in Georgia to reach four under and erase the four-shot overnight lead of Hoffman, who added a 75 to his opening 65 to slip back.

Belgian debutant Pieters, 25, who played a starring role for Europe on his Ryder Cup debut in September, hit 68, while the ever-improving Fowler joined the quartet late Friday with a 67.

The foursome were two shots clear of 40-year-old debutant William McGirt, but 15 players finished within five shots of the lead.

And with past champions Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott lurking, world No. 2 Rory McIlroy still in contention, and some of the game’s rising stars such as Spaniard Jon Rahm in the mix, the third round promises to be a shootout in warmer, stiller conditions.

The 37-year-old Garcia, for so long golf’s nearly man, is playing in his 73rd major as a professional but is still chasing a first win. Could the stars finally be aligning for him, or is it just a little too perfect? Sunday, after all, coincides with what would have been fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday.

Ballesteros, who died in 2011, was the first European to win the Masters in 1980 and backed it up with another green jacket in 1983.

Garcia’s talent has been evident since he came second to Tiger Woods in the 1999 US PGA as an ebullient 19-year-old, but his tantalising career has also been racked by self-doubt, a tendency to bemoan his misfortune, and a less than warm relationship with Augusta.

In 2012, after a frustrating third round, he told Spanish reporters: “I’m not good enough and today I know it.

“I’ve been trying for 13 years and I don’t feel capable of winning. I don’t know what happened to me. Maybe it’s something psychological. After 13 years, my chances are over. I’m not good enough for the majors. That’s it.”

But Garcia, who is engaged to be married later this year, reckons he is “a bit calmer now” and is “working on trying to accept things.” He duly accepted birdies on his first three holes despite the stiff early wind Friday and kept up the pressure as he bids to better tied fourth in 2004.

READ: Danny Willett’s guide to Amen Corner

READ: Tiger Woods – 20 years of iconic images

READ: All you need to know about Augusta and the Masters

READ: Former champ Mize relives outrageous winning chip


American Hoffman, who breezed around a blustery Augusta Thursday, wobbled in the wind Friday but kept his nerve as the pack closed in as he chases a first major title at the 23rd attempt.

“I obviously wasn’t going to follow up yesterday’s round with another but I’m happy with the way I finished,” the 40-year-old, who came ninth in 2015, told Sky.

The highlight of Pieters’ round was an eagle three at the stunning par-5 13th. A birdie to follow at 14 took him into a share of the lead and he parred his way home.

The last player to win the Masters on his debut was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, but Pieters is not one to dwell on peripheries.

“I don’t overthink stuff,” explained the unflappable Pieters, who won four of his five matches against the USA at Hazeltine. “It is a special course and special tournament but it’s still just golf.

For so long Sergio Garcia was the nearly-man who many had written off to win a major title, but no longer after the Spaniard finally made his breakthrough with a dramatic Masters victory at Augusta.

Couples in contention

Fowler, 28, who finished in the top five in all four majors in 2014 but has yet to win one of golf’s big events, began his charge with an eagle at the long second when he holed from the greenside bunker.

“I’m excited, I’m looking forward to the weekend, it’s going to be fun,” Fowler told Sky Sports.

American McGirt, 37, bogeyed the last for a 73 to remain in the hunt at two under.

The only other players to break par – at one under – were American Ryan Moore, exciting young Spaniard Rahm, England’s 2013 US Open champion Justin Rose, and veteran Couples.

The 57-year-old Couples shot 70 to keep alive a dream of a second green jacket 25 years after his first.

The laid-back American is invigorated by Augusta and shares the record of 23 consecutive cuts made at the Masters with three-time champion Gary Player. He has also had five top-20 finishes since turning 50.

“I love the place, I’ve said that for 33 straight years,” Couples told Sky Sports. “In conditions like this I almost feel better. In the bad weather it’s a battle and by playing here so many times I feel I can save shots.”

Phil the thrill

Two-time major champion Spieth, who has finished second, first, second in his three visits to Augusta, birdied three of his last six holes for a 69 to climb back to level par after suffering a quadruple-bogey nine at the 15th in a round of 75 Thursday.

“I think the course is going to get very firm, keeping the ball below the hole is so key when the nerves at the weekend come up,” Spieth told Sky Sports.

Three-time champion Mickelson, who at 46 and nine months could also overtake Jack Nicklaus as the oldest Masters winner should he triumph Sunday, reached three under at one point but dropped three shots in his last five holes to slide back to level par. Alongside him was 2013 champion Scott of Australia.

Mickelson, who won his last Masters in 2010, is looking forward to calmer weather at the weekend which should offer perfect scoring opportunities.

McIlroy battling

McIlroy needs the Masters to become only the sixth player to win all four of golf’s major titles – along with Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen. Of that illustrious group, only Sarazen achieved the feat at Augusta.

“It was another day you just had to battle and make a lot of pars and pick up the odd birdie here and there,” McIlroy told Sky Sports.

“Going into the weekend. I feel like I can put a run of 31 or 32 together and get a bit closer to the leaders.”

‘Golf is tough’

The weekend cut fell at seven over and claimed defending champion Danny Willett, who followed up his opening 73 with a five-over 78.

The Englishman, who began his second round with a quadruple-bogey eight, became the first champion to miss the cut since Canadian Mike Weir in 2004.

WIllett will have to remain at Augusta until Sunday to present the winner with the green jacket.