AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jason Day put himself in prime position once again to end Australia’s Masters jinx when he fired a 4-under-par 68 to seize the lead at the halfway mark of the year’s first major championship on Friday.
Day curled in a 13-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th hole to break a three-way tie and finish at 6-under-par 138 on a difficult day of swirling winds and tricky pin placements at Augusta National.
The 25-year-old Day, a runner-up in the Masters and U.S. Open in 2011, wielded a hot putter to notch 10 one-putts in his quest to become the first Australian to claim a green jacket.
“Obviously there’s a lot of pressure on my shoulders, being from Australia and no Australian has ever won the event,” said Day, who withdrew from last year’s Masters because of an ankle injury.
“It’s all how you look at it. If you look at it as pressure, you’re going to worry about it more. If you look at it as a challenge and an opportunity to be the first and stay positive with it, it only motivates you to play well.”
Day’s right-to-left putt at 16 snapped a three-way tie at 5 under with compatriot Marc Leishman and 1992 champion Fred Couples atop an impressive leaderboard.
The smooth-swinging Couples, 53, birdied the last for 71, while Leishman, the overnight co-leader after an opening 66, shot 73 to join him at 139.
Tiger Woods was part of a four-way logjam at 5 under when he suffered a cruel bit of bad luck as his third shot into the par-5 15th struck the stick on the fly and rebounded back into the pond fronting the green.
Woods, who up until that point was the only player of 93 in the field without a bogey in his round, hit his fifth shot within 3 feet to save bogey.
A three-putt at the 18th gave world No. 1 Woods another bogey for a 71 that dropped him to 3-under 141, three shots off the pace.
The 14-times major winner, looking for his first major triumph in five years and first Masters win since 2005, was not dismayed.
“My ball striking was so good today,” a confident Woods said. “Even my misses were on top of flags.”
Angel Cabrera of Argentina, the 2009 Masters champion, made a sizzling finish to join a three-way tie at 4 under par with Jim Furyk (71) and Brandt Snedeker (70). Cabrera birdied four in a row and five of the last six holes for his 69.
Joining Woods at 141 were Australian Adam Scott (72), Britons Lee Westwood (71), Justin Rose (71) and David Lynn (73), American Jason Dufner (69) and K.J. Choi of South Korea (71).
Day nearly extended his lead by a stroke to 7 under par when he gave himself a birdie chance at the 17th hole, but the Australian slid his putt just by the edge of the cup.
Long-hitting Dustin Johnson actually did reach 7 under after birdies at the fourth, ninth, 10th and 13th holes.
A bogey for Johnson at 14 was followed by double-bogey at the 15th, bogey at 17 and another double-bogey at the last that sent him crashing to 1-under-par 143.
A damp and dreary start to Friday’s play gave way to sunshine and roars with eagles and birdies flying, before swirling winds thoroughly tested the golfers.
Day was stymied by the wind at the par-3 12th where a sudden change in direction contributed to his hitting the ball on the bank short of the green, where it trickled down into Rae’s Creek on his way to a bogey 4.
The Australian recovered with a birdie at the par-5 13th.
Sergio Garcia of Spain teed off with a share of the lead after his 66, but soared to a 76 to finish on two-under 142.
Day’s missed birdie chance at 17 saved the day for China’s 14-year-old Guan Tianlang, who posted a 75 that included a penalty stroke for slow play that put him at four-over 148.
Guan squeezed into weekend play by being within 10 shots of the lead.
The youngest competitor ever at the Masters, Asia-Pacific Amateur champion Guan became the youngest player to make the cut at a major championship and clinched the silver cup awarded to the low amateur at the Masters.
Also advancing to the last two rounds was 2012 winner Bubba Watson who shot 73 for his 148 total.
Sixty-one players made the cut.
Among those missing were former U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell (149) and his Ryder Cup teammate Ian Poulter (151), former British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen (150) and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson (149).