A confident Pieters is in prime position, and 9 other thoughts from Friday

Saturday April 8th, 2017
2:04 | Tour & News
Masters 2017: Rickie Fowler charges to the top in Round 2
Rickie Fowler shot a second-round 67 to finish in a four-way tie for the lead at the 2017 Masters.

The second round at Augusta National is in the books. Here are 10 things that stood out from Day 2 of the Masters.

At 25, Thomas Pieters is playing in the third major of his career and his first Masters. He arrived in Augusta on Sunday, saw the course for the first time on Monday and played 36 holes over the next three days. And 10 holes into his opening round, there he was at five under par, his name atop the leader board. Now he's tied for the lead at the halfway point and trying to become the first Masters rookie to win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. So what's all the fuss about?

"It's just a stat," he said when asked about the lack of success by first-timers.

It's not that Pieters is cocky. The soft-spoken native of Belgium simply speaks with an air of confidence and candidness. He has a sense of humor. Asked for his initial thoughts about his first two trips around the National, he opened saying, "I'm a bit tired. It's been two long days."

Admittedly not the most patient of players, Pieters said the wind beat him down, and never was that patience more tested than on the back nine on Thursday, when in the span of a couple of hours he went from the lead to even par. "It hurt coming in," he said. "I caught some bad gusts." Later, he added, "My coach told me to please have a lot of patience. I'm trying my hardest."

Pieters has been in the arena before. As a rookie at the Ryder Cup last fall, he led the Europeans with a 4-1-0 record. The stage will get even bigger this weekend, but his plan is to just keep playing golf. "You know, as any tournament, I just like to get within three or four shots on a Sunday afternoon," he said. "Then you really give yourself a shot."

That's not to say he hasn't allowed himself to wonder what it would be like to be in contention on the back nine on Sunday.

"Oh, I've holed the winning putt a million times."

Thomas Pieters shares the 36-hole lead at his first Masters.
Fred Vuich/SI

JORDAN'S BACK?

The success that Jordan Spieth has had at Augusta National is well-documented. But in his last four trips around Augusta National before Friday, the 2015 Masters champion was a combined eight over par. What was up with that?

Here's a theory: Maybe success at the Masters came too easily and too early for Spieth, who lest we forget is a still a young 23. Maybe he had become too fearless as he navigated his way around the National. Look at the quad he made at the 15th on Thursday. The priority is to take the water out of play. Err long to the back of the green, if not over it. Make 6 at worst, move to the next tee at one over par and maintain your position among the leaders.

Or maybe it's as simple as this: The ghosts of Augusta National were simply saying, "Not so fast, kid."

Fast-forward to Friday: Spieth reverted to form, playing the last 11 holes in four under par while surging into a tie for 10th, just four shot off the lead. His 69 matched the fourth-lowest score of the day.

He is back in the tournament, and now he'll attempt to write the following into the record book: No player has even won the Masters making more than a 9 on any one hole.

MADE FOR TV

Third-round pairings, delivered without comment: Phil and Jordan; Rickie and Pieters; Couples and Rahmbo; Scott and Rose.

HOLE STORY

When he stood on the 1st tee on Friday, defending champion Danny Willett had to feel pretty good about things. He was one over par, having rallied from a double bogey-bogey start in the first round. And the thought probably crossed his mind, "No way I'm starting with a double today."

He didn't. He made a quad. So while Willett will be around for the weekend, it'll only be to slip the green jacket on his successor. The trouble on Friday started after Willett drew an awkward lie outside of a fairway bunker at the 445-yard par-4. He half-shanked the next while stumbling back into the sand, raced a punch shot through the green and needed five more shots to get down. The 1st hole aside it was a good week for Willett; he played the other 34 holes in one over par. Last year he played the 1st in even par.

Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, can't seem to solve the relatively benign 350-yard 3rd hole. Despite making bogey at the par-4 both days, McIlroy sits five back, at one over par. In 30 previous rounds, he was six under at the 3rd.

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OVERHEARD

A press building exchange on a Friday afternoon:

"How's married life?
"It's great!"
"It better be. It's only been a month."

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES

Lee Westwood, he of the oh-for-75 streak in the majors, had one of the quietest T-2s at the 2016 Masters, and on Thursday he got right back in contention, making five consecutive birdies on the back nine en route to a two-under 70.

On Friday, Westwood, 43, was hanging around the lead at one under after a birdie at the par-5 13th. But then he proceeded to bogey four of his last five holes. He's at three over.

BACK TO EARTH

Asked how the 75 he shot on Friday compared to the nine-birdie 65 he opened with, Charley Hoffman replied, "Today I felt how hard [the course] was for everybody else."

DON'T SLEEP ON …

The 1st hole. Tea Olive has played as the toughest hole through two rounds, with a stroke average of 4.63. There have been 11 double bogeys and six dreaded "others." On Friday it produced a lone birdie, by Sergio Garcia.

THE FORECAST IS EXCELLENT

With a bunched leader board featuring marquee players young and old, warmer temps and calmer winds, Saturday at the Masters could turn into a shootout. "If the greens somehow stay soft, which I don't think they will, and the winds die down, this golf course is receptive to birdies on the back nine," Hoffman said. "Everybody has seen it. So [the lead] could definitely get to double digits."

That would mean we'll see a Saturday 66. Or lower.

FEARLESS PREDICTION

Fowler and Rahm end the day tied for the lead, at eight under. Spieth and Pieters are a shot back. Fred is lurking, three behind. But the buzz around Augusta National is about the Sunday pairing of Phil and Sergio, both of who trail by two.

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