It was barnstorming Patrick Reed’s day at Augusta National, but Australia’s Marc Leishman had his moments as well and the big man from Warrnambool is in contention again for his first major championship.
Leishman shot a magnificent 67 in difficult conditions including an eagle at the par-five 15th set up by one of the shots of his life – a raking, 35-metre hook with a five iron around trees from around 200 metres that stopped just two metres from the pin.
At seven-under par through two rounds, he is outright second, two shots behind Reed and playing in the final group tomorrow, heading territory for the world No. 16. Neither has won a major championship before.
The eagle at 15 was sweet revenge for the Aussie at the hole that undid him in the first round when he chipped into the water. Leishman said he had not even intended to attack the pin given that he needed to negotiate the trees in front of him after his tee shot went a little left, and carry the water near the green. His target was more to find the heart of the putting surface in two.
“It was meant to be about 30 years of hook; I probably put about 40 yards of hook on it and it rolled down to the hole,’’ he said later. “At some point of the week you have to take a chance, and I felt like that was an opportunity. I felt like that was the time when I had an opportunity rather than lay up. It’s a hard wedge shot there. I gave it a go and it came off and I made eagle.”
His performance is also further affirmation of his brilliant 2017 in which he won twice in America and climbed to a career-high 12th in the world rankings. He has had two good tilts at majors before – at Augusta in 2013 when he led through the first round and played with the winner, Adam Scott, on the final day finishing fourth, and at St Andrews in 2015 when he lost a playoff to Zac Johnson.
Leishman was outstanding from the start, rolling in a big, curling right-to-left putt from more than five metres for birdie at the first, and backing up with two more birdies at the second and third from close range to take a two-shot lead. First-round leader Jordan Spieth had opened the door for him with a double bogey at the first, and Spieth would go on to shoot a 74 that saw him slide off the top of the leaderboard.
Leishman kept pushing, making a two-putt birdie at the 13th, then his only bogey of the day from a tricky spot on the back fringe of the 14th green followed by the brilliant eagle at 15. Some scrambling was required, with difficult par-saves negotiated at the 17th and 18th, where his tee shot clattered into the right treeline.
In the meantime Reed, the smug US Ryder Cup player who once said he regarded himself as a top-five world player, was on a tear with a front nine of 31. Reed at one point pushed his lead out to three shots but ultimately he tapped in for par at the 18th for a 66 that leaves him at nine-under and two ahead.
The 27-year-old studied at Augusta State University and is familiar with the course but oddly, he has previously struggled in the Masters with a best finish of 22nd. Not this week, though, as he made nine birdies for the day, drawing roars from the crowd echoing around Augusta.
The chasing pack is awesomely talented. It includes a bunch of the world’s top players including Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, Spieth, Justin Thomas and world No. 1 Justin Thomas all in the mix.
Former world No. 1 Tiger Woods made the cut but at four-over par, is 13 shots from the lead and a long way from the fairytale that some people craved. “I’m going to have to shoot a special weekend, and I need help,’’ he said later. “I’m not in control of my own destiny here.’’
As for Leishman, he can draw on the 2013 Masters when he played alongside Scott on the final day. Asked what he would take from those moments, he said: “I saw what it takes to win. You’ve got to take your opportunities when you get them, take some chances and make some putts.’’