AUGUSTA, Ga. — Three young guns of golf turned Augusta National into their private party Friday afternoon, complete with young ladies in sun dresses following outside the ropes.
Then the former young gun who helped inspire Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler to dream of winning the Masters joined the afternoon festivities with a swelling gallery of his own.
The grouping of McIlroy, Day and Fowler, who are a combined 65 years old, combined to shoot 14 under par in the second round of the Masters, leaving McIlroy with the lead at 10-under 134 through 36 holes in the first major of the year.
Day shot an 8-under 64 to claim second place at 136 and ensure a pairing today with his buddy. Fowler scooted through the front nine in 33 strokes and is tied for seventh at 141.
Then Tiger Woods, now 35 years old, began dropping birdie after birdie like he did as a 22-year-old in the 1997 Masters, when he shot a record 18 under and won by a record 12 strokes. That was the first Masters each of the three youngsters vividly remembers watching. McIlroy watched it in Ireland, Day in Australia and Fowler in Southern California.
Woods shot a including five birdies and no bogeys on the last nine holes Friday, which moved him into a tie for third at 137 with Korean K.J. Choi.
“It’s fun being a part of the mix, especially at an early age,” Woods said. “I was fortunate, in my first professional major, to be part of the mix. This is the next generation. It’s good to see these guys out there playing with that much enthusiasm and that much zest for the game, and being that good.”
But they’re the competition — especially McIlroy, who is playing in his third Masters, his ninth major, including a third-place finish at the British Open, and played on the European Ryder Cup team last fall.
McIlroy shot 65 on Thursday and followed it with a tidy 69 on Friday. He has made only one bogey in 36 holes (No. 12 on Friday), which has boosted his already sky-high confidence.
“I look down at everyone in this field, and at some point or another I’ve beaten them before,” said McIlroy, who claimed before the U.S. Open that Woods lost his intimidation factor after personal problems began in November 2009. “So there’s no reason I can’t beat them again.”
There’s young and dumb. Then there’s young and good, talented and confident — McIlroy.
“I don’t really care what anyone else does,” McIlroy said. “So it will be great for the tournament if [Woods] is up there. But I’m two shots ahead and I’m in a better position.”
Geoff Ogilvy and first-round co-leader Alvaro Quiros are tied for fifth at 138. Ogilvy has shot two straight 69s and Quiros followed his 65 with a 73 Friday.
“It’s difficult to believe, but I played good golf today,” Quiros said. “It’s eight shots more than yesterday. I can celebrate that I made the cut more than the 65 yesterday.”
McIlroy, Day and Fowler each shot 3 under on the front Friday. Then Day turned the back nine into his playground with no bogeys and five birdies, including a tap-in following a 145-yard approach on No. 18.
“I said to the boys this morning, when we were walking up the first hole, I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to have to start paying people to yell my name because everyone is yelling their name out,’” Day said. “It got a bit better on the back nine, which was nice.
“I was just having fun out there, and at the end of the day I’m very happy where I am.”
Day, who is making his Masters debut, took a different approach from other rookies early in the week. He never sought out Masters veterans and chose to play just one practice round, and that came Monday with McIlroy. He chipped and putted Tuesday and just practiced Wednesday before playing in the par-3 contest.
“We didn’t any baggage. We didn’t want anybody telling us what to do,” said Day’s caddie, Colin Swatton. “We came up with a good game plan, it worked today, and the next couple days we’ll keep doing it.”
Fowler rounded out the group of the day — each of whom is barely old enough to grab a beer in the Augusta National’s Grill Room — with a 69 that had him in a five-way tie for seventh with Ricky Barnes, Y.E. Yang, Fred Couples and Lee Westwood, who shot 67 on Friday.
“I had a lot of fun out there. Both Rory and Jason have been putting up some good rounds the last two days,” Fowler said. “Jason kind of snuck up on us today with 8 under, and it was fun to watch.”
The weekend could be even more fun to watch as Woods puts his experience against the youngsters’ exuberance.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...