Patrick Reed is two rounds away from his first career green jacket if he continues to play like he did Friday.
Reed sits atop the 2018 Masters leaderboard through the opening two rounds after shooting a six-under 66 on Friday at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. He tallied nine birdies in the second round and is nine under par for the tournament and two strokes ahead of Marc Leishman, who shot a five-under 67 on Friday.
Elsewhere, Henrik Stenson is third at five under following a two-under 70 in the second round, while Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are tied for fourth at four under par. Tiger Woods finished with a 75 Friday and finds himself four over for the tournament.
Patrick Reed and Marc Leishman Battle Atop Leaderboard
Reed had no time for pars during much of his Friday round.
The American notched three straight birdies three different times, starting with the opening three holes of the course and continuing on Nos. 7 through 9 to establish himself atop the leaderboard after finishing with a three-under 69 in the first round.
He wasn't the only one to set the pace from the start of his round, though, as Leishman also birdied the first three holes and proved a worthy foe throughout Friday's action.
It appeared as if Reed would still cruise into the clubhouse with the lead with birdies on Nos. 13, 14 and 15, especially when Leishman bogeyed the 14th, but the Australian eagled the 15th thanks to a beautiful approach and clutch putt. It was an impressive bounce-back showing after he double-bogeyed the same hole in Thursday's round on his way to a 70.
Leishman ended with three straight pars while Reed bogeyed the 16th and made par on 17 and 18 to set the stage for what figures to be a thrilling weekend back-and-forth if the second round was any indication.
Tiger Woods Survives the Cut
While Reed turned heads in the second round, the attention of the golf world was largely focused on Woods' return to the Masters for the first time since 2015.
He is still four major titles behind Jack Nicklaus' record 18 but appeared in fine form in his comeback from four back surgeries when he tied for second at the Valspar Championship and fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The stage was set for a dramatic fifth green jacket, but he instead labored Friday after battling his way to a one-over 73 in the first round.
He had some momentum with two birdies on the final five holes of Thursday's showing, but he wasted little time squandering it with a bogey on Friday's first hole and a double bogey on the fifth. He found himself in the woods instead of the fairway in the early going and struggled to generate the impressive run of shots needed to challenge the top of the leaderboard.
The only drama was whether he would even survive the cut after he bogeyed the 12th.
Birdies on Nos. 13 and 15 gave him breathing room, which proved critical with his bogey on No. 16. This type of performance resembled someone still making his way back from serious physical setbacks rather than someone who almost won previous tournaments this year, but Woods will have the opportunity to make additional strides over the weekend after making the cut.
Still, Bob Harig of ESPN.com noted that Friday marked Woods' ninth straight round over par at a major, which is the longest streak of his career.
Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy in Contention
While Woods drew much of the attention leading up to the tournament, Spieth and McIlroy were sure to draw headlines in their different pursuits.
Spieth has known nothing but success at the Masters with a win, two ties for second and an 11th-place effort in four previous starts, but McIlroy is still searching for his first green jacket and has never placed better than fourth.
It looked as if Spieth was well on his way to another title when he seized the lead after the first round with a six-under 66, but it was apparent from the start Friday he wasn't going to replicate his effort. He tallied a double bogey on the first hole, a bogey on the second and a bogey on the seventh, although he bounced back on the final nine holes with seven pars and two birdies to salvage a two-over 74.
He also knows something about prevailing despite issues on the first hole, as ESPN Stats & Info highlighted:
As for McIlroy, he is tied with Spieth at four under par through the first two rounds after following his first-round 69 with a 71 on Friday. Like Spieth, he overcame some struggles on the front nine—three bogeys—with two birdies on the back to put himself within striking distance heading into the weekend.
They each fared better than Sergio Garcia.
There will be a new champion this year after the 2017 winner played out the string Friday with a 78 after shooting a nine-over 81 in Thursday's first round that was highlighted by the 13 he took on the 15th hole when he shot five balls into the water.
The pre-tournament attention on Garcia's defense and Woods' potential charge toward a 15th major now turns to whether Reed can hold off the likes of Spieth and McIlroy, among others, on arguably golf's biggest stage.