Strong Caledonian connection on Masters leaderboard
It was a tartan takeover on the second morning in the 85th Masters. Okay, that may be stretching things, but there was a distinct Caledonian connection to the leaderboard at Augusta National.
Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, the 2019 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open champion, took pride of place as carded a brilliant six-under-par 66, beating his previous best effort at the Georgia venue by four shots, as he moved to four-under at the halfway stage.
Englishman Justin Rose, who landed that same title at Royal Aberdeen in 2014, also remained to the fore, digging deep after a shaky start to back up his sensational opening 65, which had given him a four-shot overnight lead, with a stuffy 72 to sit three shots ahead of Wiesberger and two ahead of Marc Leishman.
The Australian is the odd one out, having not won the Scottish Open, but he did taste success in the Tennant Cup, one of Scotland’s top amateur tournaments hosted by Glasgow Golf Club at Gailes Links in Ayrshire and Killermont in Glasgow, in 2004.
Sparked by a birdie-birdie-birdie start, Leishman signed for a 67, which was set to leave him sitting handily-placed for another title here, having tied for fourth in 2013 before getting into the top 10 again five years later.
Oh, and let’s not forget about Bob MacIntyre and Martin Laird because they also had cause to feel chuffed after comfortably making the cut. On his debut, MacIntyre carded a second-round 70 to sit on level-par, one ahead of Laird (71) on his first appearance since 2013.
On a day when the weather conditions were easier than Thursday but more pins had been tucked away than for the opening circuit, MacIntyre once again showed he not only has the game for these big stages but is growing in confidence with every round he plays at the top level.
The 24-year-old left-hander from Oban didn’t have a lot of room for error as he arrived on the 12th tee sitting one-over for the day and three-over for the tournament, having birdied the third and eighth but dropping shots at the sixth, seventh and 11th.
Amen Corner is no place for the faint hearted but, not for the first time in his career, young MacIntyre showed he’s made of stern stuff. A lovely tee shot to eight feet set up a birdie-2 at the 12th. He was then safely on board in two at the par-5 13th for another birdie.
It was three in a row as he threaded a shot through trees from the left side of the 14th fairway and watched in delight as it caught the slope and trundled slowly down to 11 feet. That was a contender for shot of the day.
Helped by both Laird and 2018 winner Patrick Reed during practice rounds, MacIntyre is learning fast how to play this place. On a number of occasions, he was quite a distance from the hole with approaches but in the right spot. As a result, he made some great two-putts before capping a fine morning’s work by getting up and down from a front bunker to save par at the last.
In less than 24 months, MacIntyre has now made the cut in all four majors and he’s certainty not intending to simply make up the numbers over the weekend in this one. “I wasn't worried about anything other than getting back in the golf tournament,” he said of how he’d felt on the first tee at the start of the second circuit. “That's what I went and done. I'm going to have a chance over the weekend if I can post a good one tomorrow.”
Laird is feeling exactly the same on the back of his best round here since carding a 69 in the third round on his debut in 2011. He tied for 20th on that occasion and it’s been so far, so good for the Denver-based player this time around.
Level par for the day after 12 holes, he had already picked up shots at both the 13th and 15th before rolling in a monster up the hill for a birdie-2 at the 16th. He then three-putted the 17th from around 25 feet before needing to hole a tester to limit the damage at the last to a bogey following a wayward tee shot, but he still had cause to feel pleased with himself.
“A little disappointed with my finish, but up until then I played really nicely all day and looking forward to the weekend,” said the four-time PGA Tour winner, who has Kevin McAlpine, a former Scottish Amateur champion and equally better known as son of former Dundee United goalkeeper Hamish, caddying for him.
MacIntyre’s strength so far has been his touch on the greens. “I missed one putt from inside about ten feet,” he said of his day two effort. “Other than that, that's where my golf is. If I don't miss a putt in, say, ten feet, I score well. I've worked hard on it, me and my coaches. It's a reward for putting in the practice and learning the golf course as well as I could.”
Wiesberger, one of MacIntyre’s closest friends on the European Tour, having struck it off when they had a ding-dong battle in the Made in Denmark event a couple of seasons ago, signed for seven birdies, including four in the first holes, to make his surge up the leaderboard.
“I just really putted well today on the first ten holes and holed a lot of putts, and that kind of got a really good round started,” said the 35-year-old, who claimed his Scottish Open success after beating Frenchman Benjamin Hebert in a marathon play-off at The Renaissance Club.
“Good,” he added of his position heading into the weekend. “I've been playing really solid golf yesterday and today, obviously. Just today I kept the mistakes off the card. The one blemish was a perfect iron shot just flew three yards too far.”