Golf: Spieth and McIlroy set for Masters duel

Jordan Spieth hitting out of a bunker on Friday. The 22-year-old wunderkind and defending Masters champion shot a two-over 74 at Augusta National. He later called the round "a mental test".
Jordan Spieth hitting out of a bunker on Friday. The 22-year-old wunderkind and defending Masters champion shot a two-over 74 at Augusta National. He later called the round "a mental test".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

McIlroy closes the gap on leader Spieth to 1 shot as he revives his Masters bid

AUGUSTA (United States) • Defending champion Jordan Spieth clung to a one-stroke lead over Rory McIlroy after Friday's second round of the Masters, setting up a showcase third-round pairing of history-seeking golf stars.

Spieth, trying to become only the fourth back-to-back Masters winner, sank a 14-foot par putt at Augusta National's 18th hole to stay ahead of McIlroy, who would become only the sixth player to complete a career Grand Slam by capturing the Green Jacket.

On Friday, ill winds gusted across Augusta National, the breezy conditions playing havoc with the world's most skilled shotmakers, who largely scrambled to contain the damage.

"I'm really happy with the round and how I grinded and battled out there," McIlroy said. "And I'm going to have to do that again tomorrow because it's going to be windy out there again."

Spieth struggled to a two-over 74, bogeys at the par-three 16th and 17th stripping a lead that had once been five shots to one with the 22-year-old American on 140.

"It was a mental test. It was a battle," he said.

He is trying to join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo as the only players to win the Masters two years in a row.

"It's almost a different tournament," Spieth said. "Tomorrow is going to be more difficult given the same winds and crustier greens."

Four-time Major champion McIlroy shot 71, with birdies at the par-five 13th and 15th and par-three 16th sending him to 141 while his rivals faded.

It was the first Masters round since the third in 2007 without a 60.

But it resulted in world No. 2 Spieth and third-ranked McIlroy - who have combined to win four of the last six Majors - playing together in the third round's last group and sure to draw the largest crowd.

Spieth would replace Jason Day as the world No. 1 with a Masters win if the Australian finishes outside the top five.

Day, who shot a 73 to total 145, is five strokes off the pace. South Korean-born New Zealander Danny Lee (74) and American Scott Piercy (72) shared third on 142.

The only others under par after 36 holes were Japan's Hideki Matsuyama (72), Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen (74) and American Brandt Snedeker (72) on 143.

Four-time Major winner Ernie Els, who fired the worst score ever recorded on the first hole with a nine in round one, managed a double-bogey six at the first hole on Friday on his way to a 73. "I felt a bit more comfortable," said Els, who missed the cut on 153. "I was almost back to my normal self."

Phil Mickelson lamented his poor course management after compiling his worst score at Augusta National, a 79, to also miss the cut.

The three-time champion ran up three double-bogeys, at the seventh, 15th and 16th holes, to miss the cut by one stroke at 151, just his third early exit in 24 starts here.

"I just threw away a lot of shots. This is the worst I've managed myself around this course," the 45-year-old American said.

Fifty-seven players made the cut. Among those missing out were Americans Zach Johnson and Rickie Fowler and South African Charl Schwartzel.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'SPIETH AND MCILROY SET FOR DUEL'. Print Edition | Subscribe