Don’t take your eyes off these players on the jam-packed Masters leaderboard


AUGUSTA, Georgia — Defending Masters champion Dustin Johnson won’t be around for the weekend at Augusta National Golf Club after missing the cut. Neither will four-time major winners Brooks Koepka or Rory McIlroy.

But after England’s Justin Rose came back to the field a little bit in Friday’s second round, there still figures to be much drama on Saturday, when conditions are expected to be drier and more windy.

Here are eight players to watch heading into the third round:

Justin Rose
The Englishman carried a 4-shot lead into the second round and nearly lost it after making four bogeys on the first nine. However, he battled back with three birdies on the second nine (after carding six in the opening round) and settled for an even-par 72.

“I think it was just a classic day at Augusta National when you’re just slightly off,” Rose said. “You can be a foot or two out on certain occasions and you end up struggling. … I kind of told myself going up the eighth hole, ‘You’re leading the Masters, your frame of reference is a little bit different to [Thursday’s first round]. Four ahead is something, but you’re still leading, so, like, just enjoy it and keep going.'”

Can Rose keep gutting it out and finish what he started? He doesn’t have a great track record of closing the deal at Augusta National, and his problems have typically been on the weekends.

It is the sixth time Rose has at least shared a lead at the Masters, third most in history behind Arnold Palmer (nine) and Jack Nicklaus (eight). Of course, Jack and Arnie combined to win a green jacket 10 times. Rose is still searching for his first.

Will Zalatoris
Since Horton Smith and Gene Sarazen won the first two editions of the Masters in 1934 and 1935, respectively, one first-timer has won a green jacket — Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Zalatoris, a PGA Tour rookie, has put himself in serious contention with opening rounds of 70 and 68. He had birdies on the last three holes to grab a spot alongside Rose in the final group on Saturday. He is one of only five players who has shot under par in both rounds so far. Just a couple of years ago, Zalatoris nearly gave up his dream of becoming a professional player while struggling at Wake Forest. This weekend, he will attempt to become the first player to win the Masters without first winning a PGA or European Tour event since Claude Harmon in 1948.

“I wanted to be here my entire life,” Zalatoris said. “Some people shy away from that, but I’m excited to be here. I’ve wanted to be here forever. There’s no reason to feel intimidated now. I made it to here. Obviously, the job is not done by any means, but I think standing on the first tee and hearing your name called, that’s something that every kid dreams of.”

Jordan Spieth
Coming off his first victory in nearly four years at the Valero Texas Open, the 2015 Masters champion is back in contention again after a 4-under 68 put him in a tie for fourth, 2 shots behind Rose.

According to research from ESPN Stats & Information, each of the previous four times that Spieth was inside the top five after 36 holes at the Masters, he finished in the top three.

Spieth said he’s expecting a “volatile” third round because of Augusta National’s firm greens and forecasted winds of 10 to 20 mph, which he says suit his game better than most.

“I’m happy that the golf course has the opportunity to play more and more difficult over the weekend,” he said. “I think that personally I’m looking forward to that kind of challenge, and I think that could be an advantage to me if I’m in control of the ball.”

Justin Thomas
Thomas, 27, has already won 14 times on the PGA Tour and has been one of the best players in the world for quite a while. But it sure seems like he should have more than one major, the 2017 PGA Championship, to show for it.

JT says he loves Augusta National and believes it’s a place where he’s going to win at some point — and do it multiple times.

Even after a three-putt bogey on 18 on Friday left him 3 shots behind Rose, Thomas still feels like one of the favorites.

“I can’t worry about what anybody else is doing,” Thomas said. “I know that I have confidence in myself, and I know that I’ve gotten it done at high levels and high stages before. But I’m going to have to beat a lot of good players to do it. I just need to get in my own little zone and my own little game, and I feel like, if I do that well, I should have a pretty good chance.”

Tony Finau
Finau, 31, has just one PGA Tour victory on his résumé — it came more than five years ago at the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open — but he keeps knocking on the door, even at majors.

Two years ago, Finau fired a third-round 66 at the Masters to play in the Sunday grouping with Tiger Woods. He finished in a tie for fifth as Woods went on to win.

After a 6-under 66 on Friday, which included an eagle on No. 2 and six birdies, he’s only 3 back from Rose.

Finau has been runner-up in eight tour events since his only victory.

“It keeps me hungry, it keeps me humble, and I definitely know that I definitely need a big win for me to feel like I’ve had a good career up to this point,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of close calls, and I do think I’ve had a really successful career, but not quite a winning career. I think that comes from winning a big one.”

Cameron Champ
He hits it far. The two-time tour winner finished tied for 19th in his first Masters start in November. Now, after a 4-under 68 on Friday, he’s in the mix and only 3 shots behind Rose as well.

Champ’s performance was completely unexpected based on how he has played this season. His only top-10 finish in 13 tour events was at the Zozo Championship in October. He missed the cut in five of his previous seven starts. His best finish this year was a tie for 31st at the Tournament of Champions in early January.

He’s leading the Masters field in driving distance (333.8 yards) and he has hit 21 of 28 fairways so far.

While Bryson DeChambeau has toyed with using a 48-inch driver at Augusta National to get more length, Champ uses one that is 43¼ inches, which is about two inches shorter than the standard length.

“I hit it plenty far. I’m not trying to get anything else out of it,” Champ said. “To me, once you start doing that you’re just going to hit it everywhere and not be able to control it. … That’s just how I play. This is how I play the game. I’m not going to adjust it based on if other people are hitting it further or if I feel like I need to hit it further.”

Bryson DeChambeau
A year ago, DeChambeau boasted that he planned to play Augusta National as a par-67 course because he was hitting his tee shots so far.

After finishing in a tie for 34th, he seems to have come to his senses.

“Clearly, the par was 74 for me last year,” he said.

It was actually 4-over 76 in the first round on Thursday. But then he bounced back with a 5-under 67 in the second round and gave himself a puncher’s chance on the weekend.

“I don’t think you can ever figure this place out,” he said. “There’s so many things going on around here. The wind makes it diabolical. It’s flying around through these trees and bouncing off the trees and making it feel into the wind when it should be downwind — and vice versa. I don’t think you’ll ever be able to figure it out, but I’ve just got to be more comfortable.”

DeChambeau admits he isn’t as comfortable here without the greens books and calibration tools that he is accustomed to using.

“It’s my biggest match for sure,” he said. “It’s definitely a test and something I’m willing to stand up to and try and face the challenge and try and conquer it. It’s an interesting challenge for me — and I love it.”

Xander Schauffele
Schauffele is arguably the most talented player without a major championship victory. It’s not that he hasn’t been close. He has seven top-10s in majors during his career, including top-six finishes in each of his U.S. Open starts.

The four-time tour winner finished tied for second behind Woods at the 2019 Masters and tied for 17th in November. He’s back in contention again at 3 under, 4 shots behind Rose.

“I try to be well-rounded, and major championships require all parts of your game to kind of click and run for the week,” Schauffele said. “So probably credit it to that. But it’s just more fun. Not that normal tournaments aren’t fun, but there’s no pressure. You can tell everyone is more serious [at majors] and everyone just wants to win more than the next guy.”

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