Garcia, Hoffman, Pieters, Fowler lead at -4
McGirt at -2
Couples -1; Spieth, Mickelson level
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.
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.