Souhan: The pack closes in on Justin Rose at the Masters

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Jim Souhan, Star Tribune
·4 min read
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AUGUSTA, GA. — Justin Rose's second-round lead at the Masters feels quite different than his first-round lead.

After shooting a 65 on Thursday, he had a four-shot margin when he went to sleep.

After shooting a 72 on Friday, sleep may not come so easily.

Rose is the only player on the leaderboard who shot in the 70s on Friday. Heading into Saturday's third round, Rose holds a one-shot lead over Will Zalatoris and Brian Harman, and two major champions — Jordan Spieth, at 5-under, and Justin Thomas, at 4-under — are within striking distance.

On Thursday night, Rose said, he sipped tea, sat by the backyard firepit with his wife, and avoided watching TV.

On Friday night, he may have avoided looking into mirrors, because the field is gaining on him.

"You can see the leaderboard and who is stacking up behind, and I feel like there's a lot of firepower there,'' Rose said. "Like you saw me yesterday, even on a tough golf course, someone gets it going around here. You can stretch away."

Instead, the leaderboard tightened. Tony Finau and Bernd Wiesberger shot 66s to get to 4-under. Marc Leishman shot a 67 to get to 5-under, and Thomas shot a 67 to get to 4-under.

And one of the biggest threats to Rose's lead may be lurking in that group at 4-under. Cameron Champ continues to hit prodigious drives and his 72-68 start may be the worst he could have shot given his impressive ball-striking.

He four-putted No. 3 on Thursday. On Friday, he hit a massive drive down the middle on the par-5 15th, then hit his approach over the green and managed to save par on a hole on which birdie should have been a given.

Champ leads the field in driving distance, averaging 333.8 yards to Bryson DeChambeau's 327.9. While DeChambeau experiments with long driver shafts and tweaked clubfaces, Champ said he uses a driver that is two inches shorter than tour average.

"The harder I swing, the straighter it goes,'' he said.

Other key stats from Friday hint at how the weekend might play out. Spieth, known as a short hitter, is nevertheless leading the field in par-5 scoring, at 4.13 strokes, a sign that he's hitting his fairway woods and long irons well and wedging it close when necessary, just like when he was winning majors. He also leads in greens in regulation, at 83.3%.

Thomas has gone a field-best 35 holes without a bogey, and is fourth in driving distance, at 318.7.

There is another big hitter lurking on the leaderboard, one who has yet to win a major. Finau, despite his power and fame, has won only one PGA Tour event, in Puerto Rico in 2016.

Friday, he used his quick backswing and prodigious power to move into a tie for sixth.

"It keeps me hungry, it keeps me humble, and I definitely know that I definitely need a big win for me to feel like …" Finau said, before pausing. "I've had a good career up to this point. 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, and I think that comes from winning a big one.

"For me, I think that will give me a lot of confidence. I feel like I carry a lot of confidence in these big events because I have competed at a high level in a lot of them. But I think missing that `W' keeps me humble and hungry, and hopefully I can notch that off this week.''

Thomas made his move by birdieing the difficult 11th and 12th holes. "Yeah, I played great today,'' he said. "I played solidly. I drove the ball a lot better, hit a lot more quality iron shots, had some great up and downs. It was easy.''

He may be tempting fate. Or he may have a date with it.

Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com