AUGUSTA, Ga. — Justin Rose was happy enough to still have the lead Friday evening at Augusta National Golf Club, even if only by a fraction after a day when the course was more forgiving and he had to rally just to shoot par.
The two players right behind him had reason to be thrilled just to be at the Masters.
One of them was left-hander Brian Harman, barely inside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking a month ago until two good weeks changed the Georgia native's fortunes. The other was 24-year-old Will Zalatoris, who just more than a year ago was toiling in the minor leagues and still doesn't have a full PGA Tour card.
"I wanted to be here my entire life," Zalatoris said after birdies on his last three holes for a 4-under-par 68. "Some people shy away from that, but I'm excited to be here. There's no reason to feel intimidated now. I made it to here. And obviously the job is not done by any means."
It is for reigning Masters champion Dustin Johnson, the November 2020 winner who bogeyed three of his last four holes for a 75 to miss the 3-under cut by two shots. For everyone else, it's just getting started.
Ten players were within three strokes of Rose, the 40-year-old Englishman who shot a 72 and was at 7-under 137 through 36 holes. That group included 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth, who is coming off a victory Sunday at the Texas Open and is starting to look like the Spieth of old, even if he is only 27.
"Having made a triple and five over-par holes through two rounds, I feel pretty good about being at 5 under," the three-time major winner said after a 68.
Australia's Marc Leishman (67) joined him in the tie for fourth at 5 under.
The group in sixth and three shots behind included South Korea's Si Woo Kim, who played the final four holes without a putter that he broke out of frustration. After a three-putt bogey on the 14th and a chip that nearly ran off the green at the 15th, he jammed the head of the club into the turf and damaged it.
Kim used a fairway metal to close with four pars and a 69. Asked if he had a backup putter, Kim replied: "No. I don't want to answer anymore. Sorry."
Justin Thomas, who can return to No. 1 in the world with a victory, missed a short par putt on the final hole and shot a 67 that had him three back. Also in that group were Tony Finau and Austria's Bernd Wiesberger after each shot a 66, Cameron Champ (68) and Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama (71).
Rose had been staked to a four-shot lead at the start of a warm, overcast day, but it was gone after seven holes. He didn't drop a shot the rest of the way, picked up three birdies on the back nine and salvaged the round.
"Just a classic day at Augusta National when you're slightly off," said Rose, whose lone major title came at the 2013 U.S. Open but has twice been a runner-up at the Masters. "I kind of told myself going up the eighth hole, 'You're leading the Masters.' Your frame of reference is a little bit different to yesterday. Four ahead is something, but you're still leading. So just enjoy it and keep it going."
The course played to an average score of 72.2, compared with 74.5 for the opening round. There were 40 rounds under par compared with 12 on the first day.
Baylor School graduate Harris English, who opened with a 74, was tied for 32nd at 1 over after a 71 that could be described as adventurous. Back-to-back bogeys on the fourth and fifth holes were negated with his eagle on the par-5 eighth, and he made the turn at par for the round before gaining a shot on the 10th. He had a double bogey on the 12th but didn't let it linger, adding birdies on the next hole and No. 15.
As for the top contenders, the wild card is Zalatoris, built like a 1-iron and already renowned for his ball striking. His late run began with a 9-iron shot to a back right pin on the par-3 16th to 10 feet and ended with a wedge shot from 138 yards on the 18th that set up a five-footer and put him in the final group on the weekend at Augusta.
Born in San Francisco, he grew up in Dallas and was on the developmental Korn Ferry Tour last year when professional golf shut down. When competition resumed, he had five straight finishes in the top six, including his first victory.
That got him into the U.S. Open, where he tied for sixth. Now he has temporary PGA Tour membership and is among the top 50 in the world, getting him into the Masters. That's why he talks of an "attitude of gratitude."
Zalatoris also is a quick study with a long memory. He grew up with the kids of former PGA champion Lanny Wadkins, and he took in tales of Wadkins and his 23 times playing the Masters. One story Zalatoris heard when he was 14 years old came in handy on the par-3 12th.
"He just said that whenever it's into the wind it just doesn't really affect the ball as much," Zalatoris said. "And when it's downwind, that's where guys tend to struggle."
The wind was about 10 mph into him and out of the left, 153 yards to the hole. He hit a shot that normally goes 152 yards and it carried 150. It helped that he made a 35-foot putt for birdie.
Now he heads into the weekend at a major that is up for grabs for so many players, minus Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Cantlay, who all missed the cut.
It has been 42 years since Fuzzy Zoeller became the most recent player to win the Masters on his first try.
Right there with Zalatoris is another Dallas resident: Spieth, finding his form at a major where he has a victory, two runner-up finishes and a third place in seven appearances. He thought he could win at Augusta again even before he won last weekend in Texas.
"I'm in position now to think that for sure," Spieth said. "But at the halfway point, I would have been pleased with being two back."