Fowler, Pieters, Garcia and Hoffman head congested Augusta leaderboard


A thrilling weekend is in prospect at Augusta after round two of the Masters ended with Rickie Fowler, Thomas Pieters, Sergio Garcia and Charley Hoffman at the top of a star-studded leaderboard and Jordan Spieth back in contention.

Hoffman had led by four shots overnight following a spectacular 65 in high winds, but the world number 52 came back to the field on Friday, taking 10 strokes more than he had in round one thanks largely to a run of five bogeys in six holes from the sixth.

Garcia, so often the nearly man in major championships, was the first to capitalise, starting and finishing well in a 69 to match Hoffman's four-under total.

Yet while that duo remained in a share of the lead thereafter, they were joined by Fowler and Pieters, who proved the pick of an afternoon wave that again enjoyed slightly easier conditions, carding respective rounds of 67 and 68.

Fowler holed a bunker shot for eagle at the second and built on that early momentum with four birdies, his only dropped shot coming when he found water on 15.

Pieters, meanwhile, provided further evidence of his ability to an American audience, having shone in last year's Ryder Cup. The Masters rookie, five under through 10 holes on Thursday before falling away to shoot 72, bogeyed the first but recovered strongly and hit the summit when he followed an eagle on 13 with a birdie at the next. Further chances also went begging for the Belgian over the closing stretch.

None of the leading quartet have won a major and the same can be said of fifth-placed William McGirt (73), who sits two back, but there is plenty of pedigree in a chasing pack featuring many of golf's biggest names, including Augusta specialist Spieth.

Masters debutant Jon Rahm - the PGA Tour's breakthrough star of 2017 to date - is three off the pace at one under alongside Justin Rose, Ryan Moore and 57-year-old Fred Couples, the 1992 champion.

Spieth, who has yet to finish lower than second in this event, suffered the indignity of a quadruple-bogey nine at the 15th in his first-round 75, but now sits tied-10th at level par after a 69 rounded off with impressive birdies at 16 and 18.

Phil Mickelson's putter ran cold on a frustrating back nine, but the three-time Masters champion still managed a 73 and is alongside Spieth and 2013 winner Adam Scott, four off the lead.

World number two Rory McIlroy also remains in the hunt at one over. The Northern Irishman bogeyed the last for a 73 after his approach shot hit the pin and bounced back off the front of the green.

While Spieth, Mickelson and McIlroy will fancy their chances of applying pressure to the leaders, Jason Day looks to have too much to do, a 76 leaving him six over.

Danny Willett became the first reigning champion to miss the cut at Augusta since Mike Weir in 2004. The Englishman hit a shank on the first en route to a woeful eight and ultimately shot 77 to miss out by one.

Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson also failed to make the weekend, for the first time in his career, along with the likes of Henrik Stenson and Patrick Reed.