McIlroy looking to up his game for Masters weekend

Charley Hoffman

Hoffman was the star of the show in Georgia on Thursday as he stormed to the top of the leaderboard with a brilliant opening 65. It was the kind of shot that, in mid-flight, must have had him anticipating a kick-in birdie putt to finish under par, a mere three strokes off the lead. He arrived in Augusta on Sunday, saw the course for the first time on Monday and played 36 holes over the next three days.

Four players were tied at 4-under 140 - first-round leader Charley Hoffman, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Pieters and Rickie Fowler, none of whom has won a major.

"The wind got me with my putt, sort of the ball went up the green instead of coming back down". "So yeah, it did feel like 10 shots worse".

Fifteen players were separated by a mere five shots going into the weekend, a group that includes Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, and even 57-year-old Fred Couples.

Former world No. 1 Jason Day has struggled at the Masters this week, shooting 74-76 the first two rounds and surviving to the weekend right at the cut line of 6-over par.

McIlroy wasn't ready to give up hope on a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam, though he left Augusta National on Saturday with a 1-under 71 that left him wondering how many opportunities he threw away as so many other players were cashing in.

"Anybody who makes the cut can win, " said Ernie Els. Obviously as a kid, you want to be on the PGA Tour and just win a PGA Tour event. "It's no surprise that he played well in the wind".

But, a decade after the collapse at Carnoustie, Garcia has been transformed from the whiny brat who never could beat Tiger Woods to a grizzled older fellow who came to Augusta for the 19th time this week as something of an afterthought.

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Westwood will need a miraculous comeback to avoid extending his majors drought. Could it really come here?

"That would be the best thing that could happen to me", Garcia said. And I've shown myself many times after that, that I can contend and I can truly feel like I can win, not only one, but more than one.

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.

McIlroy, who started the third round just five shots out of the lead, fired off two quick birdies and a good par save on the par-3 fourth. (Congratulations on your amateur championship, now please humiliate yourself for all to see.) But Friday, 26 years of ignominy was erased by Mid-Amateur champ Stewart Hagestad, who finished the second round at 3 over for the tournament, tied for 18th place - which is pretty much, for the Mid-Amateur, the equivalent of winning. And I'm really exhausted. Hoffman, who shot an otherworldly 65 on Thursday under hard conditions, and survived a run of five bogeys in six holes to finish at 4-under Friday. But I'm in a good spot heading into the weekend. "This is by far the best I've felt in a major".

The blustery conditions are set to be replaced by warmer weather with virtually no wind.

Fowler had the day's lowest score after mixing five birdies with a bogey on another chilly, windy day at Augusta National and the world number eight expects ideal conditions over the final two rounds to make for an exciting finish.

"It was another day when you just had to battle and make a lot of pars and try and pick up the odd birdie", he said.

American Rickie Fowler flew out of the gates early today with an eagle at the second and a birdie at the third to put himself right in contention, while 2013 victor Adam Scott made the turn four-under for his day and is one-under overall in a tie for fifth.

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