Masters champion Jordan Spieth was again threatening to run away with the Green Jacket on Friday until Rory McIlroy mounted a rousing second-round charge after the turn at a gusty Augusta National.
With a win and a runner-up finish in two Masters, Spieth’s name has become an almost permanent fixture atop the Augusta leaderboard and that trend continued as the 22-year-old refused to be blown from his perch by baffling winds as he wobbled through the turn with a two-shot lead.
But Spieth, who at one point on his outward nine led by five, was looking over his shoulder at the hard-charging McIlroy, who had three birdies on his final six holes for a one-under 71 to put his bid for a career grand slam back on track.
Spieth had slept on a two-shot overnight cushion and by the time he stepped onto the first tee to start his second round had seen his advantage grow to three with none of the early starters able to mount a serious challenge on another sunny, gusty day.
The world No 2 went quickly to work, drawing a huge roar from the large gallery tracking him when he rolled in a 14-foot birdie putt at the first to get to seven-under and put even more pressure on the chasing pack.
Spieth continued to pull away with an easy birdie at the third after a pinpoint approach left him a two-footer to get to eight-under.
But danger lurks everywhere at Augusta National, and Spieth found it at the par-four fifth where he ran up a double bogey that slashed his advantage to three.
Spieth hit back with a birdie at the eighth but stumbled through the turn with bogeys at nine and 10 and suddenly MclIroy, boosted by his blazing finish, was nipping at his heels.
McIlroy started the day four strokes behind the American front-runner and appeared to be heading in the wrong direction as he covered the front nine in one-over.
But the former world No 1 caught fire late in the round with birdies at 13, 15 and 16 and a clutch par save at the last to reach the midway point of the year’s first major championship at three-under 141.
New Zealand’s Danny Lee was among the early starters and tried to mount a charge with a birdie on the second moving him within one of the lead but he endured an up-and-down afternoon to card a 74 to finish three off the pace with American Scott Piercy (72).
World No 1 Jason Day’s struggles continued as he battled his way to a one-over 73, leaving the Australian six strokes behind the pace-setting Spieth.
It was another frustrating day for twice Masters champion Bubba Watson, who opened with a bogey at the first and then went into a tailspin, dropping shots at four, five and six on the way to a three-over 75 and in danger of missing the cut for the first time in eight visits to Augusta.
Watson could be joined at the exit by world No 5 Rickie Fowler, one of the pre-Masters favourites, 2011 champion South African Charl Schwartzel and four-time major winner Ernie Els, who put himself in a deep hole with a nine on his first round opening hole on Thursday and could never climb out